I'm a recent groupie of the University of Texas Food Lab - and just in time. Just in time to get in on a food tasting the other day. The deal: food startup founders test their foodstuffs with you. Tell them/grade them on taste, what you would pay, texture and size of the product vis-a-vis the packaging and price. The Food Lab is tied into innovation, technology and commercialization - but focused on food systems. So I kind of love it.
Turns out I had a lot of opinions, such as how one company could not be serious about naming their company "XYZ" - clearly trademark infringement, though I was not offering legal advice was not their lawyer and nothing I said should be taken as creating an attorney-client relationship and they should consult a lawyer of their own choosing. Just a passing observation I could not help but make.
Forms were available to fill out to answer standard questions for each product, but index cards, color-coded to each offering, were there to allow you more room to voice your opinion. After the protein bars, there were the sticky marshmallows in these two pans, from Sugar Puff. Icky sweet did not sound tantalizing at all after the nicely done organic protein bars with the fire-roasted nut taste. But I was there to taste, so taste I did. The lightly crusted ones - which I thought might have a toasty salty flavor combined with the icky sweet - was not that at all. Lesson: freaky to have a food not taste how it looks.
Next, and winner, to my mind, in terms of most interesting and challenging as a food startup concept: the Indian snack food tasting. The founder wanted something tied to his growing up in Southern India and the tastes and textures of those street foods.
Tasting a new potential snack food or party side dish - when it's at this baby stage - makes you appreciate the myriad decisions to be made. With this snack, it's substantive, spicy, but not too spicy - great size - or is it too large such that we would not know what to do with it. It's too dense to be eaten seriatim like a tortilla chip. And price-wise cannot justify a large-enough bag of smaller sized individual chips. So, yes, perhaps best to keep it this form (chosen because most efficient) but packaging will be key to ensure it conveys the appropriate high-end but healthy different nature of it to justify a premium price.
Next, this food startup founder's doughnut-like (his description) sweet treat, another food of his childhood.
(As those who know something about Indian food have probably figured out by now, I know little to nothing about Indian food in terms of differences between North and South and types of flour, etc.)
It is nothing but rice flour and unrefined sugar. It is the unrefined sugar though, which sugar is very hard to find, that gives it the genuinely distinctive interesting taste. Almost carmelized, not quite, not icky, just a sticky sort of spicy sweet - like honey. Took me eating through one, alas the whole thing, to wrap my head around it. My last question for the founder: (i) what year are you; and (ii) are you in a Food Studies program? Answer: (i) freshman; (ii) in the business school.
Not going to go into detail about some of the names given here, such as the one that is not the Brain Booster. Give me a call if you want to know more. All I will say is that there are some interesting aspects of pineapple juice I was surprised to learn about.
And so because I was there to taste, I had to taste not just the pretty-colored drinks (light frothy pink for Strawberry Banana), but also the dark brown green gross liquid in the liter-sized Sprite bottle named the Brain Booster.
Guess what. Delicious. Light. Vegetal-esque. Not too sweet. I liked the texture of the pulp. Others did not. My major issue with the Brain Booster: who but the wheatgrass junkies group would pay $2.00+ to chug down a dark brown/green drink?
If we eat with our eyes, this would make you want to run away from the table. A better color that connotes just how light and lovely it surprisingly was? Pale celery or celadon.
And you are welcome for that free food startup design advice.