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New crop of U of I students break salsa record with help from campus-grown produce

Published August 28, 2013
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Jessica Mondello, a sophomore in NRES, adds a bucket of salsa into the tank during the official attempt for a Guinness World Record for the largest serving of salsa at the 2013 U of I new student convocation.

URBANA, Ill. – Students at the University of Illinois set a Guinness World Record for the largest batch of salsa this past week, highlighting locally-grown produce, a portion of which was grown and provided by the U of I’s Student Sustainable Farm.

The massive serving of salsa, assembled and presented at the U of I’s new student convocation at Memorial Stadium on August 24, weighed in at 6,840 pounds. This beat the previous record of 5,868 pounds held by Asociacin de Productores del Tomates de Los Palacios in Spain. 

The Student Sustainable Farm, part of the Department of Crop Sciences at the U of I provided 1,200 pounds of tomatoes, 20 pounds of jalepenos, and 200 pounds of onions for the salsa, according to Zach Grant, a research specialist in crop sciences and manager of the farm.

Grant said students began harvesting the tomatoes on the farm just south of campus two days before the “Illinois Sights and Sounds” event, during which the salsa was scheduled to be presented and served.

“That was what we were able to harvest that week,” Grant said. “We would have had a lot more to harvest last week, but there had been cooler temperatures the previous two weeks.”

Bruce Branham, a professor in crop sciences who oversees the farm, agreed that the cooler temperatures in July slowed down the development of the tomato crop. “It’s kind of instructive of local-based food systems. On one hand you have greater food security growing your own food, but sometimes you have to make other plans.”

The remaining produce needed for the salsa came from a local producer in Arthur, Ill., with the exception of the 70 gallons of lime juice needed, said Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing dining services.

Grant noted that the effort was a very student-focused event, with students helping to grow, assemble, and eat the salsa. Staff from University Housing and Dining Services began preparing the salsa at 5 a.m. the day of the presentation and students were allowed to help fill the large tank with salsa using 5-gallon buckets. 

“The salsa was absolutely delicious,” Aubrey said. “For something made in such a large quantity it turned out quite good. Even the Guinness judicator was shocked at how good it was because to set a record the food has to be safe for consumption but it doesn’t have to taste good. And this was actually good.”

The judicator from Guinness World Records was present throughout the preparation, assembly, and serving of the salsa, finally presenting U of I with a certificate for breaking the record.

Aubrey explained that the remaining salsa was divided up in 30-gallon servings among each dining unit on campus, with Ikenberry dining hall receiving 60 gallons. “But that wasn’t even all of it,” she said. The rest of the salsa was frozen to be used as a base for chili in the dining units.

“We have a dynamite Illini chili recipe that we serve that just so happens to call for the same ingredients that were in the pico de gallo salsa we prepared,” she said.

Branham said that it was fun for the student farm to participate in the event. “Student Sustainable Farm is part of the campus and I hope we can help out with future events.”

The farm has an on-going relationship with Housing, providing on-campus grown produce to dining services nine months out of the year.

The U of I has incorporated breaking food-related records in the new student convocation the last few years.  In 2011, students were served the World’s Largest Smoothie, and in 2012, broke the record for the greatest number of people simultaneously husking corn.

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