Food scientist Louise Slade died on Oct. 7 at age 74. Slade worked as a research scientist with companies such as Kraft Foods and Nabisco, and her career spawned many practical advances for preserving the flavors of commercial food products such as cookies, ice cream, chips, and crackers. Along with her partner and sole survivor, Harry Levine, Slade made pioneering contributions to the field of food polymer science.
Slade was born in Florence, South Carolina, in 1946. She was a talented ballerina and briefly attended the Juilliard School; however, she left dance to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Barnard College in 1968. After completing a PhD in biochemistry at Columbia University in 1974, she worked as a postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then joined General Foods as a research scientist in 1979. There, she met Levine, who became her life partner and scientific collaborator.
Slade and Levine applied the principles of synthetic polymer science to the natural polymers found in food to preserve flavor and texture while minimizing the need for chemical additives. By studying the interactions between molecules, Slade developed predictive models that allowed her to alter recipes to consistently achieve desired results. She authored 260 papers and was awarded 47 patents, most of which led to practical advances in commercial foods.
Slade retired from Kraft in 2006 and, along with Levine, founded the Food Polymer Science Consultancy to advise global food and beverage companies. She joined the Monell Chemical Senses Center as an affiliated scientist in 2008 and eventually became a member of the board. Later in her career, Slade focused on reducing salt and carbohydrate content to make foods healthier while preserving the eating experience. Her final paper, published months before her death, concerned the chemistry and sensory perception of olive oil.
“Louise Slade was one of a kind: a genius, a polymath, opinionated, and acerbic and sweet, sometimes at the same time. She was a giant in the field of food chemistry and was incapable of tolerating bad science,” says Gary K. Beauchamp, Monell’s emeritus director and Slade’s longtime collaborator. “Her fundamental desire was to conduct and support good, honest, and practical science to benefit human health.”
Researchers named a wheat cultivar “Louise” in Slade’s honor in 2005. At the American Chemical Society spring 2018 meeting, the Division of Agricultural & Food Chemistry held a 3 day symposium titled, “Water in Foods Symposium in Honor of Louise Slade and Harry Levine.”