Mat­ters of taste

Tests to show what we re­ally think

Herald Sun - - NEWS - LUCIE VAN DEN BERG lucie.van­den­berg@news.com.au @Lu­cie_VDB

IT’S a taste test with a twist; sen­sory sci­en­tists are us­ing tech­nol­ogy to tap into our real re­sponse to food and drink.

Sam­pling a new prod­uct can prompt peo­ple to tell porky pies about their true feel­ings to new flavours, out of a de­sire to be po­lite.

In ad­di­tion, more than 70 per cent of our re­sponse to food is un­con­scious, mak­ing it hard to ex­press our ex­pe­ri­ence in words.

But a new sen­sory lab at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne is us­ing bio­met­ric data to de­tect tiny phys­i­o­log­i­cal signs that give the game away.

Dr Sigfredo Fuentes and his team are mea­sur­ing our re­ac­tions to prod­ucts to see which ones will be the toast of the town.

A taster’s heart rate, body tem­per­a­ture, pupil di­la­tion and tiny fa­cial ex­pres­sions can be tracked to de­ter­mine some­one’s true re­ac­tion to the taste and tex­ture of food and drink.

It may be a slight purs­ing of the lips or fur­row­ing of the brow last­ing less than a sec­ond, in re­sponse to a sour or bit­ter taste.

“For in­stance, with choco­late we know that peo­ple usu­ally smile un­con­sciously when they taste it, open their eyes slightly and move closer to it,” Dr Fuentes said.

Sci­en­tists are also us­ing the tech­nol­ogy to trial mi­croen­cap­su­la­tion in food, which may lead to a sweet treat that slowly re­leases flavours and aro­mas as you eat it — not too dis­sim­i­lar from Willy Wonka’s three-course-din­ner chew­ing gum.

It would also make it pos­si­ble to add a vi­ta­min or nu­tri­ent, like fish oil, to a food with­out the eater even be­ing aware of it.

Dis­cov­er­ing what’s de­li­cious is key to de­vel­op­ing new foods, with many untested prod­ucts fail­ing to cut the mus­tard when they hit the mar­ket. It may also allow small and medium-sized companies to de­sign and trial new prod­ucts or re­pur­pose them for an­other palate.

Sen­sory science can also be used to de­ter­mine a con­sumer’s re­sponse to pack­ag­ing and la­bels.

In the lab, food and drink are passed through a small shut­ter door and the par­tic­i­pant is asked about taste and tex­ture.

A camera records their fa­cial ex­pres­sions, even those that last less than a sec­ond, which are an­a­lysed to help de­ter­mine which prod­uct is their cup of tea.

Tasters The­jani and Nadee­sha Gu­naratne tuck into some choco­late. Pic­ture: NICKI CON­NOLLY

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