National Chemistry Week: An Interview with Ingredion’s Mabel Chacko

JerseySTEM recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mabel Chacko, project leader at Ingredion Incorporated during National Chemistry Week to learn more about what Mabel does to help improve people’s lives through chemistry.

Editor’s note: Ingredion is a sponsor of JerseySTEM helping to ensure underserved youth in New Jersey have access to STEM education. 

JerseySTEM: Tell us about your background and what you do at Ingredion.

Mabel: I studied biology and chemistry in college and now I’m a project leader at Ingredion specializing in food science.  The area of food science is so exciting for me, the aspect of working with different foods each day – ice cream, salad dressings, yogurt – the variety of things I could get into is really cool.

JerseySTEM: What excites you about the work that you do at Ingredion?   

Mabel: I get the opportunity to work with customers on a variety of accounts. My main area of focus is in starch-based texturizers and I work with customers to recommend products and find solutions to meet their needs. There are times when we need to create new products and when we do this, I work with our research and development teams to figure out combinations of ingredients to use that will create different textures and different outcomes. Think about salad dressing, for example. In order to get the right consistency and texture, we need to add the right kind and amount of starch and also to make sure they are stable over time and maintain a high quality product. I also work with my colleagues to modify foods to make them OK to swallow for people with a health condition called dysphagia (pronounced: dis-phaa-gi-a) where it takes a lot of time and effort to swallow food. Instant starches come in handy when trying to make ingredients and foods that people with dysphagia can swallow. 

JerseySTEM: Why is STEM important to you?  

Mabel: STEM is in everything we do, everyone uses an aspect of STEM each day. It’s a stepping stone to help us advance further from where we are now as a society and improving life for humankind. When I was a kid, it wasn’t such a big focus but now the tide has turned. I have kids and I’m so happy to see them exposed to this way of thinking in school and see how STEM helps build critical skills. STEM creates opportunities to ask questions like what if, could you do this??  I truly love that part of STEM!

JerseySTEM: How does what you do at Ingredion help you give back to your community?

Mabel: I am so excited by the opportunities that Ingredion exposes me to everyday. Knowing that the possibilities are endless is very motivating. I also really appreciate the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about food science through volunteer work at  schools and daycares and take the time to talk to children about careers in food science. Bringing experiments and demonstrations into classrooms and watching children get to learn in a hands-on way is really neat. Kids are typically excited about predicting how experiments will work and using different ingredients to make starches turn into powder and mixing liquids in to see the end result. Experiments like these helped as a parent during the pandemic to keep my kids engaged and interested in learning. I really enjoy seeing things through the eyes of a child and for the opportunity to help shape the way they approach different aspects of life. 


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