It's summertime and the living is easy. You are in the mood to grill. But wait. All you have is a slab of unmarinated meat. It's OK. Virginia Tech students have invented Spice n Easy, flavor spikes that will quickly and easily flavor your meat.

No overnight soaking. No cleanup. You are ready to cook.

The product was developed by the Virginia Tech Food Science and Technology Team as a unique way to add flavor to meat products without the wait and mess of a traditional marinade. Nuggets of flavor, which are easily inserted into the meat, dissolve during cooking, releasing their flavor. Spice n Easy can be used to roast, grill, and slow-cook chicken, beef, fish, and pork.

Made from all natural ingredients, the product does not need to be refrigerated and has a long shelf life. Spice n Easy has been created in Cajun and Italian flavors.

The team says they encountered a number of challenges with their idea of a meat seasoning that would dissolve during cooking. "The first problem was how to make a marinade inflexible enough to be inserted into meat," said team leader Denise Gardner of Reading, Pa., a food science and technology master's degree candidate.

They decided to try a hard-candy approach. Sucrose and water were heated, spices were added, and the product was cooled and shaped. In addition to binding the spices, the sucrose adds sweetness and preserves spice quality. The students experimented with raw materials, different shapes and sizes, cooling times, mold components, and packaging to create the gourmet seasoning.

“We’ve tested the product in chicken, beef, and pork and found that it worked well in numerous applications,” said Kevin Holland of Bradford., Pa., a co-leader and food science and technology doctoral candidate.

The students also conducted a product safety study and prepared a plan for commercial scale production and a marketing plan.

The students anticipate the item will be popular. "Eight out of 10 families own an outdoor grill," Gardner said. "The increase in the use of outdoor grills has encouraged the use of sauces and marinades, which give variety and uniqueness to meals.”

“Our data shows that 73 percent of potential customers would be interested in purchasing Spice n Easy." said Sabrina Hannah of Elverson, Pa. a co-leader and food science and technology doctoral candidate.

Jackie Reed, licensing associate with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc., is working with the team to develop their invention into a product that will make its way to grocery store shelves. "The food industry is always looking for new products, and the food science and technology students and faculty are very creative. We hope to find an industrial partner to help make this a commercial product," she said.

In addition to Gardner, Holland, and Hannah, team members are undergraduates Fatemeh Ataei of Karaj, Iran; Luman Chen of Hangzhou, China; and Cynthia Qin Li of Zhejiang, China; master’s degree students Marnie Rognlien of Warrenton, Va.; Lynn Ann Robertson of Axton, Va.; Robert Moore of Floyd, Va.; and Christian Samperio of Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Ph.D. students Govindaraj Dev Kumar of Chennai, India; and Paul Sarnoski of Ashley, Pa., all food science and technology majors.

For more information about Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, contact Reed at (540) 443-9217.

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