Amber Lepoutre (23) graduated from KU Leuven with a master’s degree in Biochemistry & Biotechnology in June 2021. For her PhD studies, she’s doing research on how natural preservatives can be used to keep bakery products fresh for longer. That’s truly pioneering work in our industry! We’re happy to have her onboard.
Hi Amber, so you’re doing this research project in partnership with Kemin. How did it all start?
Well, it started right after I graduated. Professor Van Dijck, my co-promoter at KU Leuven, suggested that I do my PhD research on mould growth in bread products. I thought it was a great idea, particularly because synthetic preservatives are currently added to bread products to keep them tasty and fresh for longer. Consumers are increasingly critical about this. Green consumerism is here to stay. Since Kemin is renowned for their expertise in natural preservatives, it’s the ideal industrial partner for this research. KU Leuven and the University of Ghent have joined the project in addition to Kemin.
Why do you want to dedicate four years of your professional life to bread mould?
I have two reasons for that. First of all, my master’s thesis entailed research on fungi on human skin and in our intestines. So mould research is definitely down my alley, and a topic that interests me greatly. Secondly, I am concerned about global food waste. Far too much food gets thrown away. By using natural preservatives, you can keep your food fresh, tasty, and healthy for longer. This is better for the planet and for the people who live on it. So when Professor Van Dijck suggested to conduct research on bread mould, I felt a lot of eagerness and energy to go for it!
Is food waste a big problem?
It’s a global problem for sure. In 2020, as much as 1.9 million tons of bakery products are wasted in the EMEA region. The colonisation of mould and bacteria plays a vital role. To tackle it, we need preservatives. But as I mentioned before, consumers are less and less keen on synthetic preservatives. It is our mission to search for mould inhibition solutions that ensure both the quality and the flavour of bakery products for as long as possible.
But first you need a grant to conduct your research, which you succeeded in obtaining! Tell us all about it.
Oh, I’m so happy that my grant was awarded! After I graduated, I met with my promotor Professor Frank Devlieghere of Ghent University, co-promotor Professor Patrick Van Dijck of KU Leuven and Kemin to clearly define the research project. I’m so grateful for every partner’s feedback. I did preliminary research in Kemin’s lab in October and November before defending my PhD proposal. Now that it’s been awarded, I’m really looking forward to the next four years.
Can you tell us about your first few months at Kemin?
I love it! People are so nice. I really feel like I’m part of the Kemin family. The employees are always willing to help me and they involve me in the challenges that come their way. Moreover, Kemin really knows what consumers want. And that’s incredibly important for this research, as that will ideally lead to end products: mould inhibition solutions for bakery products. Big shout out to my industrial promoter Ines Colle, R&D Manager at Kemin Food Technologies, for her feedback and insights!
What’s in store for the next four years?
Over the next four years, I will be researching how natural preservatives are to become an alternative for synthetic preservatives in bakery products. Ultimately, we want to bring a natural solution to the market that allows us to extend the shelf life of bakery products, which will also result in less food waste. I’m happy and proud to be part of this mission.
What is your personal motto?
‘Hard work pays off.’ I have worked very hard the past year. The fact that I have years of research ahead of me really feels like a reward. Oh, and positivity is also especially important to me. My mum always says, ‘Positive things grow out of positivity’. I genuinely believe that.