New technology that can identify the chemicals we sense by smell, at the moment we sense them, has been installed at RSSL. Researchers there say it will have a massive impact on developing food and drink products that taste better, or in reformulating products to have the same sensory characteristics as established brands.
Although manufacturers know a lot about the flavourings and ingredients that they put in to food products, they know far less about how consumers actually perceive them.
The Proton Transfer Reaction Time of Fight Mass Spectrometer (PTR-ToF-MS) recently installed at RSSL will change all that. It acts like an ‘artificial nose’, detecting and identifying the chemicals in the nasal cavity as food is eaten and smelled. Critically, it can link the release of individual chemicals to actual sensory perceptions.
“There are many potential applications in the food and drink industry,” says Alex Webbe, who heads the team at RSSL that is using the device. “We can assess flavour release in products that have been reformulated, perhaps to decrease sugar, fat or salt, and really get to understand what impact the formulation changes have on flavours, and even how those flavours persist or are lost during the course of each mouthful. Similar studies might also determine how different packaging systems affect the foods we eat. We all know that just because something smells great as you open the packet, doesn’t mean it tastes great, and vice versa. This device will help explain why.”