Everyone has their own story about why they love baking. For Hanna Santoro, it began baking with her grandmother and working in restaurants.
So far, Ms. Santoro’s baking arc has taken her from working in family-owned cafes to studying culinology at Clemson University to working for large foodservice, private label and national baking companies. All of these steps have led her to become a senior scientist in baking development and applications at ADM.
From Ms. Santoro’s earliest days in the industry, she recognized the potential for creativity in the science of baking.
“Breads and cakes of all kinds are essentially made from the same core ingredients, but small differences can help them stand out,” Ms. Santoro said.
“It’s the science of baking that gives each baked good both beauty and flavor.”
Her passion for baking is now fed by helping bakers pick the proper ingredients for their own products. Ms. Santoro sees herself as an extension of the baker’s resources and a technical partner in the development process. Her current role offers a front-row seat to what ADM’s R&D teams are studying and launching, which provides the insights needed to enable customers to be the first-to-market with new concepts.
“Working for an ingredient company with such an expansive portfolio has allowed me to expand my culinary knowledge base and explore new possibilities when it comes to ingredient selection,” she said.
Ms. Santoro’s unique perspective after having worked in multiple areas of the industry helps her place herself in the customers’ shoes.
“It’s my job to bridge the gap between our ingredient subject matter experts and customers and to help navigate the options available to make informed decisions for the best possible finished product,” she explained. “I am able to use my understanding of the baking category to make connections, which helps streamline the process to cut down on the ‘guesswork’ so customers can move faster to launch.”
When collaborating with customers, Ms. Santoro likes to return to a product’s inception. By examining it from step one, she can offer a new perspective on how to improve it. Sometimes, she said, it’s as simples as switching from a crystalline to a liquid sugar or swapping out the flour with a lower protein one. At the same time,
Ms. Santoro approaches each new challenge with the ending in mind because she knows that every customer wants their product to leave an impression. Ms. Santoro can walk customers from beginning to end with her experience and ability to engage all of ADM’s solutions.
“I have the opportunity to explore pipeline ingredients to meet new demands, market trends and upcoming ingredients in order to build them into new product launches or innovative reformulations,” she said.
She also knows that in baking, the smallest adjustments can have the biggest impacts. That’s even more true when working on gluten or allergen-free products. She said it’s important to take the formulation apart by functionality and identify the most appropriate ingredient for each part of the application. For example, wheat flour can be replaced by sorghum, rice, beans or pulses in some applications. Eggs can be replaced by chia, flax or a high-gelling protein isolate. It’s about finding the right combination of ingredients to deliver both taste and function.
Today, she said, one of the most significant challenges involves sugar reduction, especially in the United States, as consumers are creating a greater demand for permissible indulgences. They want sweet goods to taste great but not at the sacrifice of their nutritional goals. This has changed many product developers’ approach to sweet goods as they balance taste with nutrition.
Ms. Santoro and ADM also give customers access to clinical studies and research that allow them to make the best choices for their products. ADM also offers immersive training, such as the Wheat School, to educate bakers on ingredient solutions. ADM also operates the Academy of Future Flavorists and Academy of Product Developers, which put new talent through three to seven years of in-house, hands-on training. ADM is also part of the Farm to Fork movement, of which Ms. Santoro is an ambassador. Farm to Fork is an industry-wide initiative to modernize global agricultural commodity trade operations.
“I take pride in giving our customers an edge by helping them select wholesome and nutritious ingredients that spark innovation and suggesting creative approaches to help new products launch successfully,” she said.
Baking, Ms. Santoro said, is a blend of creative art and science, and she takes pride using her background, and access to ADM’s R&D library, to show bakers how to perfect their formulas.
“The science behind baking allows me to entertain my creativity,” she said.
Beyond the art and science of it all, Ms. Santoro also emphasized that baking is the business of happiness. And that’s why she loves it so much.
“Everyone has a memory of a time when baking provided a feel-good experience,” she said. “For example, making cookies during the holidays gives a sense of nostalgia, while wedding and birthday cakes are reminiscent of life’s most important celebrations. It is rewarding to help create those moments for people.