Con­sumers pro­vide data to sci­en­tist

The Standard Journal - - FARM & GARDEN -

A Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia food sci­en­tist is turn­ing to a log­i­cal source for in­put on which foods con­sumers like and which they don’t like. His re­search in­volves re­cruit­ing peo­ple from all walks of life to come into his lab­o­ra­tory in Grif­fin, Ge­or­gia, and taste food.

Since join­ing the UGA Col­lege of Agri­cul­tural and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences a year ago, sen­sory sci­en­tist Koushik Adhikari has led con­sumer pan­els on roasted peanuts, Vidalia onions, steak and dog food. (No, the re­cruits didn’t ac­tu­ally taste the dog food. Based on the dog food’s ap­pear­ance, they rated the like­li­hood they would buy it for their pets.)

“Gen­er­ally, peo­ple are fear­ful of what they didn’t grow up eat­ing,” said Adhikari. “They may dis­like a food for a spe­cific rea­son. I don’t like ice cream be­cause I worked for an ice cream com­pany for sev­eral years.”

The field of sen­sory science is all about data, he said. Af­ter ask­ing 100 con­sumers to taste six sam­ples, Adhikari and his team gen­er­ate a lot of data that, af­ter an­a­lyzed, gives food com­pa­nies a plethora of in­for­ma­tion on how con­sumers will ac­cept, or re­ject, their prod­uct.

“Most of the com­pa­nies we work with just want the data be­cause they have their own statis­ti­cians,” he said. “Then other com­pa­nies want us to an­a­lyze the data for them. It can go both ways.”

In the UGA Depart­ment of Food Science and Tech­nol­ogy Sen­sory Lab­o­ra­tory, un­trained and trained “taste testers” are used to an­a­lyze food sam­ples. Un­trained pan­elists are, sim­ply, peo­ple who eat food.

“The trained pan­elists are a lot like an in­stru­ment. They can de­tect things like how much acid­ity there is in a prod­uct,” Adhikari said. “We train them to pick out spe­cific at­tributes.”

Train­ing in­cludes, among other things, be­ing able to iden­tify a va­ri­ety of fla­vors by smell alone. Both trained and un­trained pan­elists have their place in sen­sory science, Adhikari said.

Some food com­pa­nies just want con­sumer opin­ions on a prod­uct’s taste, and other com­pa­nies want in­for­ma­tion so they can mod­ify or im­prove their prod­uct.

“The un­trained panel can give feed­back on whether they like or don’t like the prod­uct. The trained panel can tell them which at­tributes are prob­lem­atic or tell them which at­tributes drive the con­sumer to like the prod­uct,” he said.

UGA Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion peach spe­cial­ist Dario Chavez just planted a peach or­chard on the UGA cam­pus in Grif­fin. Here, he and Chunx­ian Chen, a U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Agri­cul­tural Re­search Ser­vice (USDA-ARS) fruit and nut re­search unit peach scion breeder, will ex­plore new peach va­ri­eties based on Adhikari’s trained panel data and con­sumer pan­elists’ taste pref­er­ences.

In the past, new peach va­ri­eties have tra­di­tion­ally been bred based on char­ac­ter­is­tics like fruit size, the num­ber of fruit each tree can pro­duce and how well the fruit stands up to ship­ping.

Over the years, unique peach fla­vors have been lost over the years be­cause breed­ers have fo­cused on yield, size, firm­ness and ex­ter­nal color, Chavez said.

Adhikari is also ask­ing con­sumers to taste Vidalia onions, in co­op­er­a­tion with Daniel Jack­son in the UGA Crop Qual­ity Lab­o­ra­tory in Athens, Ge­or­gia. He led a wide-reach­ing public taste test to de­ter­mine the level of pun­gency of onions con­sumers like the best.

To par­tic­i­pate in a UGA Sen­sory Lab­o­ra­tory con­sumer taste panel, call Paula Scott, Adhikari’s lead tech­ni­cian and a trained pan­elist, at (770) 412-4747, ext. 230.

Con­trib­uted

Food taste testers can con­trib­ute to re­search.

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