Joseph Awika, Ph.D., is the new head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Texas A&M University. He started Nov. 1.
Awika, a professor at Texas A&M since 2008, previously led the Cereal Quality Lab within the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. As head of the Cereal Quality Lab, he worked with multiple stakeholders to advance the quality and value of cereal grains to benefit grain producers, food processors and consumers.
An accomplished researcher, Awika has identified mechanisms by which secondary plant metabolites and minor grain constituents can be optimized to improve food quality and human health. Among his many other accomplishments has been developing food processing techniques to improve the health and nutrition profile of grains.
“Dr. Awika’s research involves multidisciplinary and international collaborations with geneticists, nutritional biochemists, agronomists, plant breeders and others from around the world,” said Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D., vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “His work has been instrumental in developing value chains for grain-based food products to help address food and nutrition insecurity among vulnerable populations. We are excited to have him enter this new leadership role.”
Stover noted that Awika’s extensive research and innovative work to apply knowledge of food science and technology toward improving food security were among the reasons Awika was asked to lead the department.
“We want to make this new department the best in the country by being nimble and responsive to the food needs of society through innovations in high impact student training, research and industry engagement,” Awika said.
Department of Food Science and Technology
The mission of the Department of Food Science and Technology is to develop a world-class training, research and outreach program to help shape the future of the food science profession, while innovatively meeting the current and emerging needs of stakeholders. The department was formed in 2020, following a split from the former Department of Nutrition and Food Science.
The department is involved in unique high-impact education and research programs that apply contemporary and novel technologies in food processing, safety, quality and sustainability. Among the efforts in which it is involved is designing innovative processing technologies to improve food quality and nutritive value, while enhancing the safety of foods and ensuring the wholesomeness of the food supply.
The department’s core teaching and research facilities include commercial-scale electron beam food processing, NASA space food preparation and processing, a hot-fill high-acid pilot plant, and grain processing and baking. The department works closely with government, academia and industry scientists to respond to society’s needs.
Awika’s academic, research background
Awika earned his undergraduate degree in dairy science and technology at Egerton University, Kenya, and doctoral degree in food science and technology from Texas A&M. His main areas of expertise are cereal science, carbohydrate chemistry, polyphenol-food polymer interactions, bioactive compounds chemistry, and international food and nutrition security research.
His research explores how the quality and healthful biological properties of foods can be affected by interactions between bioactive secondary plant metabolites and macromolecules such as carbohydrates and proteins.
Awika has also investigated the effect of such interactions on specific markers of chronic disease prevention and how this knowledge can be used to develop innovative processing techniques that will lead to improved health and nutrition benefits from grains and other plant-derived commodities.
Awika’s research in cereal science has resulted in 75 peer-reviewed articles, 10 book chapters and two books. He serves as a reviewer for several journals, including Food Chemistry, Food Hydrocolloids and Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. He currently serves as editor of the Journal of Cereal Science.