Graduate Student Profile: Savanna Curtis, Food Science
Is peach beer the next big thing? Find out from Savanna Curtis, second year Master of Science student in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department! Savanna is from Ionia, Michigan and earned her B.S. in chemical engineering from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. Her graduate advisor is Dr. Andrew MacIntosh. She took time out of her busy schedule of brewing, singing and preparing for her December graduation to share her story. Read on to find out more about her research and life at the University of Florida!
Tell us about your “Peaches as the New Oranges” presentation. How did it come about, and is peach beer the next big thing?
This past summer I gave a presentation at First Magnitude Brewing Company during a launch of a Fresh From Florida beer that I collaborated with them on! My presentation, entitled “Florida Peaches: Is peach the new orange?”, gave a little insight to viewers on what the peach industry in Florida looks like and why it’s important for Florida’s agriculture. I also spoke about the importance of my research, which has been on the characterization of Florida peach cultivar ‘UFSun’ as a potential juice and fermentation substrate, to the beverage and ingredient industry. I went into a little detail on the specifics of my research and the process “from field to snifter”–essentially meaning how the peach got from its tree to the glasses the crowd members were sipping their peach beer from. It was well attended and a lot of fun! One thing I was able to find out with my research is that, in this specific style of beer (a Gose beer–Germany’s take on a sour beer), peach juice was not the best kind of fruit juice to add due to the fact that many of the volatile compounds present in the peach juice are also present in the beer, therefore it is difficult for one to detect many peach-specific odor characteristics. So peach beer COULD be “the next big thing,” but only if enough juice is used for the flavors and aromas to really stand out.
How did you chose food science as your graduate school major?
I began my education as an undergraduate chemical engineering major at Michigan Technological University. I had always had a love of food, but I didn’t realize that it’s what I absolutely wanted to do right away. I subconsciously looked for ways to incorporate food into my education and decided to pursue a minor in Bioprocess Engineering. I also tacked on a certificate in Global Technological Leadership through Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College which allowed me to travel to India for six weeks to help rural communities build water filtration systems and even built one government school a tumbling composter for their organic garbage. During my undergrad I worked at a CPG packaging company, Bemis Company (now Amcor), where I worked on the ultrasonic sealing of retort flexible food pouches. I was able to shadow their only food scientist and realized that I was on the right path to exactly what I wanted to do: put a product on a shelf. I’ve loved food and cooking since I was little and seeing the packaged food I was working on at Bemis on a grocery store shelf was like a dream. All of this and a love for manufacturing, processing and knowing how things are made drove me to Food Science. The University of Florida was my top choice, and I am very lucky to have been offered a position in such a dynamic and exciting environment.
What do you want to do after graduation?
My ultimate end goal is to work for a company that impacts the lives of their consumers with the products they make. Product development, innovation, research and development–all are dream options for me. As long as I am continuously challenged and always learning new things then I will be nothing but happy. I want to work on products that make me jump out of bed every morning, whether that includes beverages, snacks, non-dairy, gluten free–you name it! I love food, and I love the intricate science details behind everything we eat each day. Companies like Nestle, Mondelez and PepsiCo create lasting memories with their products. I want to do that with my career.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My hobbies are just about as far from science as you can get! Along with food, my other absolute passion is musical theatre. Since I moved to Gainesville in August of 2017, I have performed in four musicals and one play and am currently in the rehearsal process for another musical. I love singing, whether it be at karaoke or on a stage. I also play the ukulele and a little bit of piano. When I am not performing, I can be found doing yoga and making things for my Etsy shop where I make bright pieces of jewelry from resin and brass (Classy Sassy Savvy, if you’re interested!).
If you could be any food, what would you be and why?
This question is so HARD! Well, my absolute favorite food in the world is potstickers. Potstickers have such a complex combination of flavors and come in a variety of ways–steamed, baked, deep fried, pan fried–but they are ALWAYS delicious. I would absolutely be a potsticker because they are a bold, complex network of flavors like ginger, garlic, onion with umami and sweet characteristics and more. To me, they are always a reliable option for a meal, appetizer, etcetera. I see myself as a person who is also very complex with a lot of variety–spicy, bold, soft, crunchy (and if I’m in the Florida sun for too long I FRY). Anyone who meets me can attest to my charisma and energy–just like the distinct flavor combinations that exist in a potsticker.