What is Food Science? - Definition & Research

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

You might not be aware of the amount of research that goes into developing and maintaining a steady, healthy food supply, but that's exactly where food science comes in. This lesson will delve into some of its applications.

Food Science

Amy is a high school junior who just started the lengthy college selection and application process. When paging through a booklet listing different majors, she noticed food science was included on the list. Amy wasn't sure why food science was even listed as a topic she could major in, so she headed to the Internet to find out more information.

When defining food science, we can break the definition down into two parts. First, it involves the study of the physical, biological, and chemical composition or makeup of different foods; and second, it involves all of the underlying concepts of food processing. Put simply, food science is the branch of science that works to create and maintain a wholesome food supply for the general public.

If you think about these different pieces, it's clear that food science is inherently related to biology, chemical engineering, biochemistry, nutrition, animal science, and microbiology. So, if Amy decided to major in food science, her coursework would likely overlap with all of these fields. Upon graduation, she would be known as a food scientist, and her goal would be to improve food production.

Food scientists work to develop foods that are both safe and nutritious, and they are responsible for the assortment of food packaging you can find in every grocery store or supermarket.

Applying Food Science Research

Like Amy, you might be surprised to learn so much training and research goes in to the process of establishing and maintaining our food supply. In fact, the food industry is included in the top 5 largest manufacturing industries in the United States!

A modern Food Science laboratory.
food scientists at work

Some food scientists spend their time learning about an individual food's properties through laboratory analysis. Once a food is understood, then the tools of a sister-field (called food technology) are applied to mass produce desirable food products.

Ultimately, advances in food science are responsible for things you may take for granted, like:

  • Frozen foods
  • Canned foods
  • Microwaveable meals
  • Processed snacks
  • Milk with a longer shelf-life

In other words, without food science, you would be limited to eating food grown either by yourself or by farmers geographically close to you. This would limit the variety in your diet and the time of year different foods were available.

Current Research

Now that you know a bit more about the field of food science and some of its past accomplishments, what about cutting-edge research? What kinds of questions are food scientists currently working on? Paging through the latest scientific journals in the field offers a glimpse into the minds of today's food scientists.

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