A love of cooking leads to a career in food science for Hannah Curle

You’ll usually find her on the third floor of the Marotta Building at the Daniel. J. Patterson Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, working on something food or beverage related…

Hannah Curle is the Food Science Research Associate with the Food & Beverage Innovation Centre (FBIC) of the Research & Innovation (R&I) division.

Hannah works closely with the student research assistants at FBIC and takes more of a leadership role in the projects the team works on. “I delegate tasks to students, help them with their daily product development work, and make sure things are going smoothly with the hands-on lab work,” she said.

After graduating from Western University with a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, Hannah had to decide where her path was going to take her next.

Was she going to be a Dietitian? Was she going to be a Chef? She wasn’t sure.

“I felt like something more hands-on and applied would be good for me, so I decided to look at going to college after I graduated at Western,” she recalled.           

Hearing about a positive experience from a friend’s younger sibling who was in the Culinary Innovation & Food Technology Program at Niagara College (NC), she was intrigued. She toured NC and other colleges and decided to come to Niagara. Since she has always had an interest in food and science, but didn’t want the hard life of a chef, this program seemed like the next best step in her career.

During her time in the program, she jumped at the opportunity to work with R&I as a Research Assistant at FBIC.

“I started as a Research Assistant in my second year of the culinary innovation program and was in that role for a year and a half. After graduating, I was hired on as the Research Associate,” she said.

Over the years, some of Hannah’s projects she’s most proud to have worked on are a project with DistillX Beverages Inc., who produces Sobrii Ø-Tequila, and another project with Darling Mimosa.

Sobrii 0-Tequila (pronounced zero-tequila) is the second beverage innovation project DistillX has done with FBIC. They originally had FBIC work on their Sobrii 0-Gin, which was a huge success.

As part of the research team, Hannah was instrumental in the flavour development of the product. This involved many rounds of flavour adjustment in order to achieve the complex flavour of tequila without alcohol.  

Darling Mimosa is an authentic sparkling mimosa made with real juice and Ontario wine. Naturally gluten-free, without any added preservatives, Hannah got to work on the development of a grapefruit mimosa for the company, which is now available at the LCBO.  

“I would definitely encourage students to apply (to R&I).
… I think you can only learn so much in a classroom, but when you’re getting actual hands-on experience, dealing with clients, actually developing a real product that is going to be commercialized, that’s just really valuable experience.” 

With graduation in 2022 came the opportunity to take on the associate role, and while it is coming to an end in July, she says she has the best memories working with R&I and has found the experience to be priceless in her career trajectory.

“I’m a little sad to be leaving because it’s been a really good experience. I’ve really enjoyed it, but I know it will be good to move on and get different experience, as working in research is different than working in industry,” she noted.

While she has lots of great memories from her time at FBIC, there are a few standouts. “Recently, I was invited to Ottawa to participate in the CICan On the Hill + Student Showcase event, which was fun because I got to showcase the Sobrii 0-Tequila that I worked on. It was really nice to get feedback from people because they really enjoyed it,” she said.

Most recently, she went to Toronto to participate in Queen’s Park College Day, where she did a similar display with non-alcoholic gin and tonics using the Sobrii 0-Gin, alongside gluten-free lemon poppyseed muffins made with Pilling Foods Bakers Blend Complete Flour Replacement (a gluten-free flour blend developed at FBIC, designed to replace all purpose flour 1-to-1).

Whatever she ends up doing next, she wants it to be in the area of product development as that is what she has enjoyed the most while working at FBIC.

“Many jobs that I’m applying to now require three years or more experience, and if I had just graduated and not worked at FBIC, I wouldn’t have the experience to land those jobs, so I’m grateful for my time here and people like Ana [Cristina Vega Lugo, Scientific Manager] and Kristine [Canniff, Acting Associate Director] who have helped,” she said.

Between jobs, she plans to find some time to do things she loves, such as getting outdoors, hiking, and of course, cooking, which she never gets sick of doing. She’s also an avid knitter, which she finds very meditative.

If you’re a student on the fence about working with FBIC or any other Innovation Centre with R&I, Hannah has this to say: “I would definitely encourage students to apply. For me, personally, it’s been the most valuable part of my Niagara College experience because I learned so much from it,” she said. “I think you can only learn so much in a classroom, but when you’re getting actual hands-on experience, dealing with clients, actually developing a real product that is going to be commercialized, that’s just really valuable experience.”

Visit the Food & Beverage Innovation Centre website, or if you have a project idea to share, contact David DiPietro, Manager, Business Development, at [email protected]