Here at All Friends, we are serious about innovation. The All Friends beverage infusions brand is new, but our parent company has been around more than 65 years. Product innovation is one of the core values at Leahy-IFP.
It’s pretty much required that you are able to innovate if you’re going to thrive as long as we have. We’ve been able to do that thanks in part to the talented and friendly food scientists who are at the heart of our innovation department.
Let’s get to know Myla Watkins, Paul Tschammer, De’Airius Sailbi and Ben Smith. Each member of this team had a hand in creating the All Friends beverage infusions, as well as dozens of our products with the Leahy-ifp name on them.
What made you want to be a food scientist?
MW: Both of my parents were in the medical field so I was drawn to science, but I also loved the artistic side of cooking and baking. When I started at Purdue and found the Food Science department it just felt like a perfect combination of the two!
PT: I originally wanted to be a chef and was taking foods classes in high school. My junior year, I took a class called Chemistry of Foods which was co-taught by a foods teacher and a chemistry teacher. I loved it. It opened my eyes to the world of food science which I never knew existed up until that point.
DS: I had no idea food scientists existed until I stumbled upon the major while applying to Iowa State University with the help of their staff and my father. I always had a love for chemistry and nutrition/food so when I was offered a full ride scholarship to attend and study it, I couldn’t say no! Go State!
BS: I used to be a chef, and there came a time when working 14 hour shifts every weekend became old so I looked into what else I could do with my culinary background. This was when I discovered food science as a discipline and realized this could take my culinary skills in a new direction, with the new challenge of learning the science behind the commercial food products we eat and drink every day. And I get weekends off now!!
What is your favorite flavor to work with and why?
MW: Right now I am loving nostalgic flavors like old-school candy and dessert flavors (Peach Rings, Jolly Rancher, Strawberry Shortcake, etc). You can create something that can unlock memories and a whole experience, rather than just something that tastes good.
PT: Mango and other tropical fruits. They just always give such a bright and uplifting note to beverages we work on that I feel really gives a little extra depth and excitement.
DS: Strawberry or mixed berry because they are so nostalgic.
BS: I love herbs and spices. One of my favorites is star anise with its exotic aniseed flavor. It’s one of those spices that gives dishes the character of Asian cuisine, but can also pair well with beverages so keep your eyes out for a star anise flavored LTO!
Do you have any food-related pet peeves or quirks?
MW: I’m a fairly adventurous eater and like most foods, but for some reason I can’t stand asparagus. It’s a beautiful vegetable and I want to love it so much, but I just can’t do it.
PT: As a food scientist it really irks me when products and ingredients get attacked by people that aren’t really educated on them. A lot of safe and FDA approved ingredients get unfair press because people who really know nothing about them think they know everything about them.
As for flavors, cream cheese is the grossest! To me it just tastes like spoiled dairy which I guess I’m sensitive to. But then again I love bleu cheese…
DS: I am not a picky eater and don’t dislike many foods, but I absolutely HATE okra… How does a warm, slimy vegetable that makes a mess on your plate sound? Gross? Exactly.
BS: I have always been fascinated by how ‘bad’ smells can contribute to a flavor in a positive way. A good example of this is butyric acid- on its own this smells like vomit, but is an important part of the flavor of parmesan cheese, and at the right level is actually perceived as delicious! Next time you open a can of dried parmesan cheese, give it a good sniff and see if you can smell the butyric acid!
What’s the best thing about your job?
MW: It feels great to see products I helped create on menu boards and grocery store shelves. I also love being able to create new things and try unexpected flavor pairings. I’m lucky to work with a team of scientists that are just as crazy as I am, so we are always bouncing ideas off each other or trying new things on the bench.
PT: Seeing products I’ve worked on out in the marketplace. It’s still crazy to me to see people walking down the street with something I’ve made on the bench or seeing a commercial on TV for something I’ve worked on. It’s a rewarding feeling to know that people out there love something I created.
DS: Getting paid to be as creative as I want and the opportunity to make the food consumed by the masses more healthy, sustainable, and delicious.
BS: It’s definitely the mix for me of the creativity of dreaming up new ideas and playing with them in the lab, and then taking that to the next level with the science behind scaling up products to be viable commercially and to tick all the boxes of being a safe, good quality product that is appealing to consumers.
What’s your favorite All Friends beverage infusion and what do you love about it?
MW: Mango Chili is my favorite beverage infusion because it’s so versatile. Not only does it make a refreshing beverage with a kick of heat, but it also makes an amazing Margarita, salad dressing, or sauce. I’ve even used it to glaze chicken wings!
PT: Mango Chili for sure. Mango is my favorite fruit and I LOVE anything spicy so naturally I love the combo in this beverage infusions!
DS: The Strawberry Hibiscus beverage infusion is my favorite because it is so fresh and reminiscent of a homemade jam. Don’t get me wrong, all of the flavors are delicious but that one throws me back to my mother’s delicious breakfasts as a kid that always contained perfectly toasted bread with strawberry preserves! Love you, ma!
BS: I love the chili mango! Sweet heat has been trending for some time now, and this flavor really ticks that box. It’s a bit of a polarizing flavor in America, but if you look south of the border you will see this is more common with foods such as the mangonada- a blend of mango and hot sauce. It’s almost like tricking your senses, with the sweet cool mango drink followed up with a mouth glowing chili kick!