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Pie Hopes

An apple pie with only 100 calories? Well, I had to try it. So last week I wandered over to the Food Science/Human Nutrition building, where Washington State University students on the Food Product Development Team were taste-testing their latest creation, a low-cal apple snack dessert.

100 calorie apple pies

100 calorie apple pies

Apparently this was a popular taste test. In the first 20 minutes about 30 people had lined up to sample the pies. I barely made it in.

The testing space was quiet hallway lined with booths on the right. In one corner of each booth waited a laptop computer.  Once you sat down, you faced a small metal door, about a foot square. To announce your presence, you pushed a blue button, which triggered a light in front of the door telling the students on the other side that you’re there.

I quickly finished the introductory section of the questionnaire on the laptop, which asked things like my age and dessert preferences, and then I pushed the button. The door slid up and I could see a portion of a student – her chin, arm, and some torso. She greeted me and slid forward a napkin, a paper cup of water, and the first little pie. It looked like a small bran muffin. It smelled of grain and a bit of apple.

Since I’m more of the hot apple pastry topped with vanilla ice cream type of person, I didn’t really feel like I was eating apple pie. It was more like a healthy breakfast or hiking snack.  And it was a little dry. The water helped.

The second pie, which another student slid in when I pressed the blue light button again, really wasn’t as good. It had some other taste – a different kind of sweet flavor that was off-putting. I wrote on the questionnaire that even if I knew that the second pie was a healthy treat, I wasn’t likely to buy it. The first I might buy in a pinch as a healthy alternative to potato chips.

Once I finished my 25 questions and left the testing room, I was offered a peek on the other side of the wall to see the students who were coordinating the test and doling out the little pies and waters.

Food Science student preparing 100 calorie apple pies

Food Science student preparing 100 calorie apple pies

Between answering the button calls, freshman Karin Thorsen and sophomore Erin King told me they helped make the pies right there in the kitchen. They used golden delicious apples as well as some stabilizers and emulsifiers in the process. The crust, they said, was made of whole grains. The whole product was fiber rich and shelf stable.

The snack they and teammates Sean Moran and Kerrie Caspar had created amounted to 50 calories a little pie, and could be sold in packages of two for less than 80 cents. And it has about two times the grams of food contained in most 100 calorie snacks.

What was the different between the first and second pie? I asked the students’ coach, food scientist Stephanie Clark. The second one had flax seed in it, she said. The students wanted to make their healthy snack even healthier. Though I didn’t like it, most of the taste testers didn’t mind the difference, she told me.

The students are entering their pie in the Danisco Knowledge Award competition – which comes with a $10,000 top prize.  The entry in the nation-wide college contest is due at the end of April. The results will be announced in July.

Other students on the WSU Food Product Development Team have had entries in several contests this year. Their products include a lava cake that actually erupts, a nutritious mango milk drink, and yogurt fruit leather.


WSU Food Product Development Team: