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Nicki Jene Engeseth

Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition


Dr. Engeseth grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. She completed her B.S. degree in 1982 from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. She received her M.S. degree from the University of Illinois, Department of Foods and Nutrition, working with Dr. Barbara P. Klein. Her Ph.D. research was conducted with Dr. Ian Gray in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, emphasizing food lipid chemistry. After completing her Ph.D., Dr. Engeseth conducted postdoctoral research with Dr. John Ohlrogge at Michigan State University in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, studying plant lipid biochemistry and molecular biology. She and her husband, Dr. William Helferich, Professor of Nutrition, moved to the University of Illinois in 1996 and are both in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Dr. Engeseth teaches courses in food chemistry.

Research Interests

Engeseth’s research program at U of I has focused on ensuring optimal food quality and nutritional value of the food supply by investigating the impact of environmental growing conditions, processing, and storage on produce and oilseed quality, with emphasis on enzymatic action, lipids, and natural antioxidants.

Research Description

Dr. Engeseth's research focus is on the study of chemical and biochemical reactions in food products with the eventual goal of manipulation of these pathways for enhancement of food quality. Highlights include the impact of growing conditions, processing and storage on quality and nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. This includes the study of oxidative reactions and antioxidant action with the eventual goal of manipulating such reactions for enhanced food stability and nutritional quality. Also being studied are the physical properties of food lipids, such as cocoa butter and the impact of changes through storage and processing on consumer perception of product quality.

Oilseed lipid/fatty acid biosynthesis pathways; manipulation of oilseeds to alter fatty acid composition and total oil content; chemistry and modes of action of natural antioxidants. Vegetable oils are one of the most valuable components of oilseeds and are an important constituent of both human and animal diets. Oil quality is dependent upon the fatty acid composition. Our laboratory studies the pathways for fatty acid biosynthesis in oilseeds, with particular emphasis on acyl carrier protein's role in determination of plant fatty acid composition and oil content. We have developed a series of transgenic plants to investigate the impact of altered acyl carrier protein levels on oilseed quality. Some of this research also extends into the study of pathways for unusual fatty acid biosynthesis so that we may be able to produce unusual fatty acids desirable for nutritional applications in common oilseeds. Additionally, we study the impact of altered environmental atmospheric levels of CO2 and ozone on soybean quality through a multi-investigator project (SOYFACE), including major storage components of carbohydrate, lipid and protein and other key compounds with potential biological activity such as isoflavones, other phenolics and saponins. The impact of ozone on oxidative stress issues on soybeans will be addressed as will the impact of altered environmental atmospheres on gene regulation of key pathways influencing soybean quality.Other research in our laboratory has been focused on natural antioxidants, with a particular emphasis thus far on honey. Projects related to this include the study of honey as a protective agent against oxidative deterioration reactions in foods and the mechanisms by which honey imparts this protection, including detailed characterization of antioxidant components of honeys. Other projects include the investigation of honey and other food components as sources of dietary antioxidants and the ability of these natural sources to protect against oxidative stress in human/animal systems.



  • Ph.D., 1990, Michigan State University, East Lansing
  • M.S., 1986, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • B.S., 1983, University of Minnesota, Duluth


Courses Taught

  • FSHN 595 - Advanced Food Chemistry
  • FSHN 518 - Chemistry of Lipids in Food
  • FSHN 414 - Food Chemistry


Additional Campus Affiliations

Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Affiliate, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Professor, Nutritional Sciences
Head, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Professor, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Recent Publications

Ac-Pangan, M. F., Engeseth, N. J., & Cadwallader, K. R. (2023). Identification of Important Aroma Components and Sensory Profiles of Minimally Processed (Unroasted) and Conventionally Roasted Dark Chocolates. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 71(25), 9856-9867.

Engeseth, N. J., & Lei, C. (2022). Comparison of Growth and Quality between Hydroponically Grown and Soil-Grown Lettuce under the Stress of Microplastics. ACS ES and T Water, 2(7), 1182-1194.

Taylor, A. J., Cardenas-Torres, E., Miller, M. J., Zhao, S. D., & Engeseth, N. J. (2022). Microbes associated with spontaneous cacao fermentations - A systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Research in Food Science, 5, 1452-1464.

Wade, J., Ac-Pangan, M., Favoretto, V. R., Taylor, A. J., Engeseth, N., & Margenot, A. J. (2022). Drivers of cadmium accumulation in Theobroma cacao L. beans: A quantitative synthesis of soil-plant relationships across the Cacao Belt. PloS one, 17(2 February), Article e0261989.

Lei, C., & Engeseth, N. J. (2021). Comparison of growth characteristics, functional qualities, and texture of hydroponically grown and soil-grown lettuce. LWT, 150, Article 111931.

View all publications on Illinois Experts