Careers in Cereal Chemistry

Cereal Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, and properties of cereals and the reactions or transformations they undergo. Cereals are plants such as wheat, rice, corn, barley, rye, oats, and millet, which produce grains that are the base of the world's food supply. Because of the importance of cereals as food for humans and animals, the field of cereal chemistry continues to grow as an important scientific career.

Although the field may be considered highly specialized, it is actually quite diversified. This diversity becomes apparent when one reviews the many different areas that employ the skills of cereal chemists.

The cereal chemist may work in basic research, examining the biochemical components of cereals, including their carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and enzymes. Some of these studies are very technical, employing sophisticated analytical techniques and instrumentation. By contrast, the cereal chemist may be employed by a food company involved in the practical aspects of food production - for example, in flour milling, baking malting, brewing, or pasta manufacturing. In the food company, the cereal chemist or technologist may be involved in product development or quality control, where his or her understanding of the production of food may be used to assess products for consistently high quality.

A few universities offer specialized training in cereal chemistry. However, many individuals engaged in cereal chemistry obtain their training in the fields of food science, foods and nutrition, chemistry (organic or biochemistry), or agriculture.

Career Opportunities

Depending on their particular interests and training, cereal chemists may be involved in any of a broad range of career areas. These include teaching, basic and applied research, product development, quality control, marketing technical sales, and production management.

Organizations hiring cereal chemists for the above functions include universities, governmental agencies, private research institutions, cereal processing industries and suppliers to the cereal-processing industry.

The food-processing or cereal-processing industries are major employers of cereal chemists. Included in this group are basic cereal processors (e.g., wheat, corn, and rice millers) and a very broad range of secondary processors who rely on cereals as a major ingredient in their products. These processors manufacture such products as: baked goods (bread, sweet goods, crackers, biscuits, and frozen products), pasta, prepared mixes for consumer or industrial accounts, snack foods, breakfast foods, pet foods, and animal feeds.

Quality Control and Assurance

Cereal chemists work in food-processing or food-manufacturing facilities, directing and implementing quality control and assurance programs. Leadership skills are important, since the cereal chemist works on a team with other personnel in the facility to build quality into the product and maintain that quality in every product.

In addition to leadership skills, and understanding of the basic principles of quality control is important. Finally, the cereal chemist must understand the raw materials and processes being used and the quality characteristics important in the final product.

For example, the quality control laboratory of a flour mill needs a cereal chemist with knowledge and understanding of the different factors in a flour that influence its quality. The mill can then provide bakers with a variety of flours, each optimum for a particular product.

Many of these skills are taught as part of academic training programs. One also has the opportunity to learn on the job, as most companies have either formal or informal job training programs.

Product Development

Cereal chemists who work in product development use creativity to develop new products or processes. This could include finding new uses for under-utilized cereals and cereal by-products, formulating new products from existing ingredients, working on improved processes to manufacture final products, improving the flavor in a product, measuring nutrients, or conducting tests.

In addition to creativity, product development requires a knowledge of the properties of cereals and how these properties are affected by combining cereals with other ingredients and using different processing methods.

Research

In spite of the long history of cereal processing (flour milling and baking were two of the earliest food-processing industries), many aspects of cereal quality are still poorly understood. Cereal research is done in universities and in governmental and private institutions. Some areas under investigation include:

  • Studies of the chemical composition and physical structure of cereals and their relationship to grain "quality." Quality studies cover nutritional quality, processing quality, and product quality.
  • Work with agronomists and cereal breeders to develop new cereal varieties with better quality, disease resistance, and yield. Because of the world's rapidly expanding population, research on improved crop varieties is very important to ensure and adequate food supply in the future.

In research, as in product development, creativity and curiosity are important qualities of a cereal chemist. Most individuals engaged in cereal research have postgraduate (masters or doctoral) degrees. These can be in a variety of other fields as well as cereal chemistry. During the extended training program, they become familiar with some of the more sophisticated analytical techniques or procedures that are used to study the biochemical components of cereals. Postgraduate education also provides a research worker with good training in experimental discipline.

Teaching

As in any professional or scientific area, cereal chemists have opportunities to teach. Some universities have departments involved exclusively with cereal science. At many other institutions, cereal science programs or courses are taught as part of food science or foods and nutrition programs.

An academic career offers a cereal chemist the opportunity to do research as well as to work with students, both teaching them and guiding their research.

Extended Career Opportunities

As cereal chemists progress through their careers, many opportunities exist to diversify their skills or to apply their technical expertise in a nontechnical area. For example, a scientific background is often useful in sales, marketing, or nutrition services. Technical knowledge will assist in identifying a customer's needs and in effectively meeting them. Another area where a technical background is beneficial is manufacturing management. As with most management positions, although business skills and the ability to work with people are critical, there is real benefit in understanding the process and products from a technical viewpoint.

Educational Requirements

The education required for a successful career in cereal chemistry varies with the specific job area and the level of responsibility. Education for a cereal chemist can be obtained at several institutions and could include two-year technical degrees, four-year bachelor of science degrees, or postgraduate degrees (M.S. or Ph.D.).

Basic science education is an important starting point in the training of a cereal chemist. Chemistry-supported by biology, mathematics, and physics courses-is essential. A cereal chemist should also include more advanced course work in such areas as food processing, engineering, microbiology, biochemistry, nutrition, cereal chemistry, statistics, food analysis, milling and baking, and plant science. Laboratory experiences are a particularly valuable part of the educational process.

Other areas of education that may be required or helpful for the cereal chemist are courses in communication skills, economics, management, and computers.

For positions in basic research and in universities, graduate work leading to M.S. or Ph.D. degrees is necessary. The educational requirements for these degrees involve advanced course work and a research project.

U.S. and Canadian Universities that offer Graduate Education in Cereal Science

Universities with Cereal Science Degrees

Kansas State University
Department of Grain Science
Shellenberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-2201
http://www.grains.ksu.edu

North Dakota State University
Department of Cereal Science
P.O. Box 5728
Fargo, ND 58105-5728
http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/cereal-science/

Universities Offering Cereal Science Education and Research as Part of a Food Science Degree

University of Arkansas
Department of Food Science
272 Young Ave.
Fayetteville, AR 72703

Cornell University
Institute of Food Science
Stocking Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/cifs/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences
Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition
260 Bevier Hall
905 South Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801-3852
http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/~fshn/

Iowa State University
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Ames, IA 50011
http://www.ag.iastate.edu/departments/foodsci/FoodSci.html

University of Maine
Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition
Orono, ME 04469-5736
http://www.umaine.edu/foodinfo/

University of Manitoba
Department of Food Science
Winnipeg, MAN R3T 2N2 CANADA
http://www.umanitoba.ca/afs/food_science/

Michigan State University
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
East Lansing, MI 48824-1224
http://fshn.msu.edu/

University of Minnesota
Department of Food Science and Nutrition
1334 Eckles Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108
http://fscn1.fsci.umn.edu/

University of Nebraska
Department of Food Science
Lincoln, NE 68583
http://foodsci.unl.edu/

Purdue University
Department of Food Science
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1160
http://www.foodsci.purdue.edu/

Texas A & M University
Institute of Food Science & Engineering
Faculty of Food Science and Technology
College Station, TX 77843-2474
http://www.tamu.edu/foodscience/

Washington State University
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Pullman, WA 99164-6376
http://www.cwu.edu/~diet/

© Copyright AACC International