New types of dairy products must continue to change the face of the industry — we’ve seen the success already with milks, yogurts, and coffee creamers, just to name a few. But we can’t forget about an old standby, either: cheese.
Americans consumed about 38 pounds of cheese per capita in 2018. With thousands of unique varieties worldwide from farmers of all types, there seems to be a flavor created for everyone.
It turns out, cheese may be even more versatile than we might think. A new twist on the favorite was awarded top prize at the 2019 Idaho Milk Processors Association (IMPA) New Products Competition. The dish? A vegetarian option of chicken nuggets made up of 79% cheese. The innovators were a team of food science students from Utah State University.
The nuggets, pictured above, are called Moogets and made of Paneer cheese. Paneer is a fresh cheese that’s mostly bland, but it picks up other flavors well. The cheese is also an exceptional source of protein, which has contributed to its growth as a substitute for meat in India.
Paneer’s protein level and ability to have its flavor manipulated made it a natural choice for the students to use in the contest. Its meat-replacement role in India gave way to the idea of using the cheese to make a vegetarian chicken nugget.
To make the Mooget more chicken-like, and not just a nugget-shaped cheese curd, vital wheat gluten was added for texture and a chicken flavoring made the taste. Thus was born a “chicken” nugget designed to meet the desires of vegetarians.
The product even attracted attention from a large dairy foods producer interested in developing the idea further, and the university is currently working on patenting the creation. The team also took home $10,000 from the competition to put toward food science student programs and scholarships. Next in the queue for the department is a beef-flavored cheese.
Envisioned by students
Perhaps the most interesting part of this product is its creators. This idea did not stem from a huge research and development laboratory or a fast-growing startup company. A group of college students studying food science formed, researched, and developed this unique idea.
The Utah State team of Savannah Branson, Ireland Green, Melissa Marsh, Jun Mun Yang, and Sophie Overbeck exemplifies the potential that lies behind the raw materials of dairy. Now, children everywhere would likely agree that there’s no real replacement for chicken nuggets, but the Moogets are an innovative alternative and certainly a clear example of the power of cheese.
With a little creative thinking, who knows what the next great dairy product could be?