AgCenter symposium highlights sugar research, marketing opportunities

Olivia McClure  |  6/10/2019 3:04:57 PM

(06/10/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — A recent LSU AgCenter symposium highlighted research on sugar crops and new ways to use them in food products.

More than 50 people registered for the event, held June 6 at the Lod Cook Alumni Center at LSU. It was sponsored by the AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute.

“We probably are the oldest sugar institute in the world, if not one of the oldest,” said Gillian Eggleston, director of the Audubon Sugar Institute, which was founded in 1885. “We have a huge history of serving the Louisiana sugar industry, but part of our mission is also international.”

The symposium featured information on both sugarcane and sweet sorghum. It included speakers from industry, commodity groups, the AgCenter Food Incubator and School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“With all of these resources together, I think it creates a unique opportunity to look at what’s driving consumer demand,” said Wade Baumgartner, AgCenter associate vice president.

Sugar too often is portrayed as unhealthy, said Gina Eubanks, AgCenter associate vice president.

“I’m an individual who believes you can have it all,” she said. “But you have it in moderation.”

Some states have introduced taxes on sweet beverages.

“There’s these stigmas out there associated with sweeteners and sugary drinks that we have to contend with,” said Doug Bice, market development director of United Sorghum Checkoff Program.

Still, his group has successfully helped promote sorghum to food companies. Grain sorghum is now used in gluten-free menu items at Papa John’s and Chick-fil-A, and “all signs point upward” for demand for sweet sorghum-based syrup, he said.

Sorghum syrup contains more potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous and iron than other syrups, such as high fructose corn syrup, Bice said. The Audubon Sugar Institute helped him obtain the nutrient content data, he said.

The institute also has helped Matthew Heckemeyer, CEO of the Sugarmill Distillery in Sikeston, Missouri, improve his product lineup through a United Sorghum Checkoff Program grant.

Heckemeyer, who makes whiskey and vinegar from sweet sorghum, told attendees of the symposium about his business.

Other speakers at the event included:

  • Marvin Moncada, a food scientist at the AgCenter Food Incubator.
  • Stephen Boue, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Jeanne Lea, USDA food technologist.
  • Giovanna Aita, associate professor at the Aubudon Sugar Institute.
  • Jack Losso, professor in the AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
  • Fred Goodrow, former corporate manager of food safety programs for American Sugar Refining Inc. and Domino Sugar.
  • Louise Wicker, professor in the AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
Gillian Eggleston.jpg thumbnail

Gillian Eggleston, director of the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute, speaks at the Sugar Crops in Foods symposium June 6, 2019, at the Lod Cook Alumni Center at LSU. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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