COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Apparently, it's hard to beat a burger made of beets.
On Oct. 1, the "UnBeetable Burger" with a soft gourmet pretzel bun won the Student Product Development Competition of AACC International, a professional association specializing in cereal grain science.
The product was created by a team of Ohio State University students in the Department of Food Science and Technology. The UnBeetable Burger also took third place earlier this year in the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association and Mars Product Development Competition.
"We wanted to create the first frozen microwavable ready-to-heat vegetarian burger with a bun," said Liz Green, a third-year undergraduate and captain of the 16-member team. "We looked at what is already on the market and wanted to create a product that would fill a market niche.
“We found Frozen White Castle Burgers, but they're not vegetarian. We found lots of frozen vegetarian burgers, but nothing with a bun that you could just take the package, stick it in the microwave and eat."
The primary ingredients in the burger are beets, black beans and brown rice. The team realized while developing the burger that if they shredded the beets, the ingredient held the patty together, "like a bird's nest -- it doesn't break apart," Green said.
The beets also give the burger "a beautiful ruby-red color, plus lots of antioxidants and vitamins," she said.
The team estimated the cost to manufacture the "Conveniently nutritious, Unbeatably delicious" burgers at $1.69 per package of two mini-burgers. Allowing for profits for the manufacturer and retailer, they estimate the retail price would be a reasonable $2.99 per package.
"It was a real balancing act to make sure the product tastes good but is still affordable," Green said. "We think we found the optimal formulation."
The department encourages students to participate in product development competitions, said Luis Rodriguez-Saona, an associate professor who, with associate professor Monica Giusti, acts as an adviser for such teams.
"These competitions provide a unique problem-based learning experience for students," he said, helping to familiarize them with industry's approach to developing new and improved food products.
The UnBeetable Burger in particular was "a very challenging effort," he said, involving students with backgrounds in food science, food business and food culinary experiences. "The teamwork led to the development of a delicious vegetarian burger that all judges praised for appeal and taste," he said.
The end product is 190 calories per serving, is vegan, offers a good source of fiber and is free of saturated fat.
Team members Rarinthorn Thammakulkrajang and Teerarat Likitwattanasade presented the product at the recent AACCI annual meeting, where the team received $2,250 for its first-place award.
Although team members protected their creation, they haven't yet been approached by a manufacturer to commercialize the product. But whether or not the UnBeetable Burger ever makes it to grocers' freezers, Green said the project was worthwhile.
"This experience helped build my skills as a leader, and I think every team member took something away from this unique learning experience,” she said. “Product development is not a single-person job -- everyone has a hand in it."
The Department of Food Science and Technology is part of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.