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Assigned Reading: Rich Hartel

Read up on the science and technology behind candy and confections.

Hayden Lamphere
December 07, 2022
Tools for Making Candy

Rich Hartel has what many would consider a dream job. Not only is he a professor of food engineering, but he’s also director of the UW’s Resident Course in Confectionery Technology, also known as Candy School.  

After earning degrees in physics and food engineering, Hartel realized he craved the freedom academia provided. He joined UW–Madison as a professor in 1986, and in 1997, he took over Candy School from founding director Joe von Elbe ’59, MS’60, PhD’64. 

At Candy School, industry professionals from around the world convene in the basement of Babcock Hall to receive hands-on instruction from some of the industry’s best. The two-week course is taught by UW staff and industry experts who cover topics such as gum, gummies, taffy, creams, and chocolate. Only after understanding the science behind confectionery does the fun of innovating and creating new products begin.

Despite working in an office filled with a seemingly endless supply of candy sent from around the world, the Candy Hall of Famer’s favorite part of the job is teaching. “No question about it. I’m in charge of our undergrad program, and I teach a lot. I do the recruiting for the department, so I get to meet with high school kids and help them figure out what they want to do in life,” says Hartel. “I teach a freshman class, and I teach three senior classes, so I get to watch them grow up, essentially. I always say that they keep me young.”

Hartel teaches courses in food science careers, food manufacturing, and candy science. He also runs a research lab with undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc students, where they specialize in all things chocolate, candy, and ice cream.  

My assigned textbooks include: 

Careers in Food Science: From Undergraduate to Professional, by Richard Hartel and Christina Klawitter, is assigned for the freshman career-orientation class. What do you do with a degree in food science? “I wrote a book for it,” says Hartel. “We think we have a program that really fosters student learning — and not just learning, but also the skills to use that learning to solve problems.” 

Confectionery Science and Technology, by Richard Hartel, Joachim von Elbe, and Randy Hofberger,is required for the upper-level candy science class. I took the summer course for industry [Candy School] and converted it with Joe [von Elbe] and an industry friend our ours [Randy Hofberger]. I upgraded the science of it and used most of the same labs and have it now as a senior course for our food science students.” 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

“My wife says I should get a hobby, and I say, ‘Well, writing books is my hobby.’ But I’m always doing crossword puzzles, so that’s probably what I do the most when I’m idling.” 

What are you currently reading? 

Sherlock Holmes and Friedreich Nietzsche in the Swan King Affair: A Philosophical Mystery Thriller by Andrew Glenn. 

“I like mysteries, historical mysteries, so anything set in London.” 

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson 

The Slow Road to DeadhorseAn Englishman’s Discoveries and Reflections on the Backroads of North America by James Anthony. 

“I also like travel books. It’s always interesting to hear good writers and good thinkers talk about their experiences as they go through.”

The books I read over and over: 

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig 

The River Why by David James Duncan

A book you think everyone should read:

“I would never pretend that I would say everybody has to read this book, so I’m going to say I don’t have one of those. Everybody’s got their own interests, and they’ve got to find what’s interesting to them.”

What are some of the favorite things you’ve worked on or written? 

Food Bites: The Science of the Foods We Eat 

Candy Bites: The Science of Sweets

“My daughter [AnnaKate] and I worked on it when she was a senior in college,” Hartel says. “I took a sabbatical and went up there, and we lived together for a semester while writing the book. One of our questions was ‘Do Baby Ruths float?’ So she got Northland College pool water, and we put seven or eight different bars into the water. The only one that floated was the Three Musketeers.”  

What’s your favorite candy or ice cream? 

“I don’t eat that much ice cream, but when I do it’s Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food. And then, I have a weak spot for chocolate-covered raisins.”  

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