The Future of Flavour

Chiara Cecchini wrote . . . . . . .

The produce of today is being engineered for color, shape, yield, and shelf life, but it seems like the produce of the future will be optimized for flavor. Horticultural sciences professor Harry Klee is currently breeding a tomato for taste, based on analysis of flavor compounds in heirloom, wild, and modern tomatoes. This endeavor involved sequencing the genomes of over 400 tomato varieties, but his efforts also encompass part of a larger goal. Klee hopes that by understanding the chemical and genetic makeup of flavor in fruits and vegetables we can control the synthesis of flavor compounds and create better-tasting food.

In an age where the average supermarket tomato is watery and lackluster and where the generic pea no longer tastes like spring or the earth, an increased focus on flavor from the production side is most welcome. Peter Klosse, author of The Essence of Gastronomy: Understanding the Flavor of Foods and Beverages, asserts that this change may be driven by consumers’ frustrations with flavorless foods. “Gradually, we’ve grown to changing our traditional agricultural systems to produce flavorless commodities,” Klosse states; according to Harry Klee in “Improving the flavor of fresh fruits: genomics, biochemistry, and biotechnology“, it is now generally accepted that the flavor quality of many fruits has significantly declined over recent decades. But blandness of products does not seem an issue because the food industry has found a way to solve the problem. This is done by incorporating salt, sugar, fats, and chemical additives to restore flavor that has been bred out of food.

Ultimately, a lack of value for produce’s flavor is where it all starts. Supermarkets, focused on getting food from producers to consumers in the most efficient, least costly means possible, want a consistent supply of consistent quality food. And while several food-tech companies are populating the market trying to provide solutions to meet this needs, Corporate farms, urged to meet industry demands, are forced to sacrifice seasonality and sustainability — and consequently, flavor.

“We have lost biodiversity,” Klosse says. “We have lost a lot of individual quality between farms and regions, we are losing varietal differences.” But consumers are starting to notice, and starting to care. Klosse believes innovation in this field should be focused on moving the food system towards regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative systems, involving maintaining biodiversity and using farming techniques that do not damage soil, are also flavor-rich. Food production today emphasizes efficiency and yield; but if the value of flavor — and subsequently the possibility of earning money by cultivating flavorful produce — is reintroduced, farmers can once again grow foods that are both flavorful and sustainable.

Klee’s research articulates the benefits of the older, more natural agricultural practices which Klosse promotes. His team has discovered that modern tomatoes lack the sweetness and rich flavors of heirloom breeds since flavor compounds have been lost over time; bred out as the genes responsible for producing the volatile flavor chemicals are neglected. Supermarket tomatoes are picturesque, hefty globes of firm red flesh. But bite into one and you’ll find that the tanginess, earthiness, and succulent sweetness associated with tomatoes are, well, absent. Beyond replicating Klee’s experiments by taste-testing a variety of tomatoes, Klosse claims we need palpable proof of concept for a regenerative system to convince the industry of its merits.

In short: we need real examples which you can see and touch. “Start small,” he suggests, “take a comprehensive region within the industry, from farmers to retail to consumers, committed to a new way of thinking, and demonstrate that regenerative systems work.” In my opinion, if more people come to realize that said systems do in fact work, the food system of tomorrow may be one that combines future understandings and research on flavor compound interactions with past ecologically-friendly practices. If what we believe about flavor becoming increasingly prioritized by producers and consumers holds true, then the future of food is a truly appetizing one which we should look forward to.

The potential of technology and big data

The fact that artificial intelligence and data-driven methods are being harnessed to upgrade kitchens, create new products, and generate supply chain solutions is already old news in the food industry. Innovations in digital flavor profiling, however, have yet to gain widespread traction. Hopefully, that will soon change, as companies like Gastrograph and FlavorWiki are seeking to alter how companies – and by extension, consumers – view flavor.

We at the Future Food Institute spoke to Jason Cohen, founder of Gastrograph, and Daniel Protz, founder of FlavorWiki, to gain more insight into how these digital profiling pioneers are using analytics to reshape the flavor profiling landscape.

Experiencing flavors

We asked Cohen how the role of flavor or taste might change as food becomes increasingly experiential. Cohen thinks the role of flavor itself may not undergo a transformation; rather, the shift lies in the role of data changing how products are developed. “People have always wanted good tasting food, and will continue to purchase the products that taste best to them.” However, as novel techniques are “making it possible to predict perception and preference for the first time,” product developers need to become progressively more aware of how they can take data and predictions into consideration to develop competitive products.

In the past, companies could develop “generally acceptable products,” but as the number of companies and products grow, on both local and global levels, increasingly niche products are required to remain competitive. Cohen firmly believes that companies failing to use modern techniques and data to predict the changing consumer preference of each consumer cohort will be at a disadvantage. Due to increased competition in both old and new markets, companies are reinvesting in the competitive attributes that will bring consumers back to their brands – which, in Food and Beverage (F&B), is flavor.

Personalizing flavors

Technological advancements extend to personalization. As flavor may be experienced differently by different people, it’s only expected that the flavor becomes something more individualized. Sensory panels that most companies currently use to taste-test products are unrepresentative of general market preference. Gastrograph uses AI and predictive models to identify how different demographics and regions experience and enjoy different flavor profiles. They then utilize that information to optimize new product development, product adaptation, and portfolio management services to companies, taking targeted and cognitive marketing into account to ensure the right products are developed for target consumers.

FlavorWiki, too, is developing flavor-mapping technology that quantifies individual taste perception and preference. Food retailers and producers can then use this data to personalize product development, improve product innovation, and deliver a more engaging food experience. Their founder and CEO, Daniel Protz, believes consumer research is ripe to undergo a transformation.

The goal of consumer research to determine what flavors, textures, and fragrances will be popular with a target market. Companies typically have trained tasters to give feedback on products. It is generally very expensive to conduct this type of research; so much so that the large majority of consumer research in sensory science is done by a few large conglomerates like Nestle and Unilever.

Increasing accessibility

Protz believes “somebody should figure out a way to make this type of research more accessible to smaller companies, to make it faster, to make it more agile,” so that new companies creating products like meat or dairy replacements can develop foods that are both innovative and liked by consumers. FlavorWiki’s methodology enables the profiling of food products by untrained consumers, using an algorithm and data capture methodology developed by a Princeton statistician. A person can taste a product and use the application to profile it, allowing FlavorWiki to obtain profiles from anywhere in the world.

Their profiling technique is more robust than existing consumer research as they can collect a lot of data at a lower cost. They gather information like time of day, age, demographics, where you consumed the product, and what you consumed before the product as well. Outputs may include: what is the level of sweetness, or bitterness, et cetera, in a juice product? Is that product accepted by the group of people the company is testing it with? How much sweeter does it need to be to be accepted? Is that statistically relevant? What is the difference between products A and B, and which do people prefer, and why?

A “flavor profile” can be created for each person, showing their preferences for different flavors. People’s taste preferences can be grouped into taste archetypes, or personas; the archetypes of people who live and work in East Asia will be different from those who grew up in the American midwest. Archetypes can change depending on age and exposure to new foods, and any one person can fall into different archetypes for different types of foods.

In the past, food companies have mass-produced a single product and marketed that product to all types of consumers. With taste archetype data, companies can better target particular archetypes, and consumers can be matched with food products based on their archetypes. It will be easier to tailor products to specific geographic locations. Companies can still mass-produce, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, catering to specific archetypes of a desired market.

Ultimately, FlavorWiki hopes to construct a “taster community platform” where groups of people with certain profiles are given both new products to try before they are released and incentives to provide feedback on products currently on the market. Likely first adopters may be sent food based on on criteria like “vegan” or “dairy free” to review.

The resulting scenario

The future we imagine is one in which digital flavor profiling technologies empower consumers as well as producers, providing us a greater voice in the development of food products. Cohen notes that successful F&B products can have long-term impacts on the future flavors of other goods. If product development becomes more consumer-centric, we may see changes in the way food trends disseminate. In addition, profiling technologies seem to enable consumers to be better arbiters of flavor. Users claim FlavorWiki causes them to think more about what they’re eating; as people become better at recognizing flavor notes, they can gain more appreciation for the food they consume. Due to heightened awareness of flavor on the consumer side, and awareness of predictive technologies and big data on the producer side, flavor may be viewed as an increasingly personalized experience to tap into.

Source: The Spoon

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Modern Ice Cream Flavours Inspired By History

Charcoal Ice Cream with Pomegranate Swirl and Chocolate Sourdough Breadcrumbs

Laura Kiniry wrote . . . . . . . .

If Stonehenge Monument were an ice cream, it would be a delicious bowl of vanilla blended with bits of oats and hazelnuts and honey swirls.

At least according to Hannah Spiegelman, a small-batch ice cream maker in Baltimore who explores the sweet — as well as salty, spicy and even a little nutty — sides of historical people and places through A Sweet History, her blog, Instagram feed and occasional pop-up stand of the same name.

Spiegelman creates unique ice cream flavors inspired by everything from historical figures to art history, mythology, astrology and historic events. “I’ve always liked looking at history from a visual standpoint,” she says.

That quality is evident when you see a tea cup filled with her hay ice cream, sprinkled with pieces of pistachio and raspberry macarons: Spiegelman’s picture-perfect ode to Impressionism, with the vibrant pink color of its crushed macarons standing out like the small but visible brush strokes that characterize this 19th century art movement.

There’s Spiegelman’s Mint Tea Green Ice Cream with Peach Swirl, a mix she concocted after learning about Edna Lewis, the former Hollywood dress-maker who became a culinary legend for her books on traditional Southern foods. Lewis created a peach cobbler out of fresh summer peaches that many consider to be one of her quintessential dessert recipes, and the “swirls” are meant to represent the fluidity of the garments she sewed. As for the ice cream’s primary flavor? “The aroma of freshly crushed mint heightened the festivity of any occasion,” Lewis once wrote, so Spiegelman took it a step further, combining crushed mint with the ultimate refreshing treat.

Spiegelman also created a green chili ice dream with red chili caramel sauce and biscochitos — an homage to New Mexico’s distinct culinary heritage, as well as the state where she spent her teens. She calls the flavor Red or Green?, using the caramel sauce both as a carrier for the red chili and to show the contrast between the two chili colors and tastes, and biscochitos —anise-flavored shortbread cookies — because they’re New Mexico’s state cookie, as well as a nod to the Spanish settlers who first began making them in the area centuries earlier.

“The thing I miss most about home is the unique cuisine,” Spiegelman says, “which I wanted to highlight in this flavor.”

Spiegelman had been making ice cream as a hobby for several years before realizing she could combine her two passions: food and history. She had recently graduated from Baltimore’s Goucher College with a general history degree, and was splitting her time between research work and a second job at a local ice cream shop, where she met owner Krystal Mack.

“When I talked with Krystal about my interests, she was incredibly supportive,” says Spiegelman,” and told me, ‘there’s no reason you can’t bring them both together.’ ”

She took Mack’s advice and slowly began merging the two, launching ASweetHistory.com in February 2017 with her Custard Ice Cream with Rose Water Meringue, a flavor based on the life of James Hemings — Thomas Jefferson’s private chef (and the brother of Sally Hemings). Hemings’ own recipe for snow eggs — a vanilla custard with rose water meringues — served as a direct inspiration.

Spiegelman has since gone on to create flavors based on everything from the 1904 World’s Fair (which she says, “introduced, not invented as a lot of people think, new foods like ice cream waffle cones and Dr. Pepper,” both ingredients that make up the overall flavor) to Futurism, the 20th century Italian avant-garde art movement that celebrated the machine age and urban modernity. In this case, inspiration for the almond ice cream with its strawberry black pepper swirl comes specifically from the Futurist dessert known as Italian Breasts in the Sunshine: two pieces of almond paste, each topped with a fresh strawberry and dusted with black pepper.

“My favorite part is the research,” Spiegelman says. She’ll often delve deep into a subject, drawing connections between certain qualities of a topic and specific ingredients.

Sometimes the connections are obvious, such as with the aptly named Poe Toaster: a cognac ice cream with rose candy. It’s the sweet tooth embodiment of the “Poe Toaster,” a mysterious person (or persons) who visited Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore grave annually on the author’s January 19 birthday for approximately 75 years, each time leaving behind an unfinished bottle of cognac and three red roses.

Other Sweet History flavors feature ingredients that are more abstract, such as Spiegelman’s Charcoal Ice Cream with Pomegranate Swirl and Chocolate Sourdough Breadcrumbs, her edible manifestation of Persephone —whose decision to eat pomegranate seeds sealed her fate as queen of the underworld, according to Greek mythology.

“I used charcoal for the base to represent the darkness of the underworld,” she says, “and the breadcrumbs are symbolic of the sheaves of grain Persephone is often depicted holding.” As for their distinct chocolate sourdough flavor, “I had them left over from another [ice cream blend] and thought they’d make a nice addition.”

Not every new flavor hits the mark. A friend once commissioned Spiegelman to create a flavor based on Aries, the first astrological sign of the zodiac, but “the recipient was an extremely picky eater,” she says. “It was difficult finding the right mix of ingredients that would both capture an Aries’ qualities and suit her tastes.”

To help streamline her process, Spiegelman keeps a running list of ingredients that she thinks might work well together, and she’ll turn to it when creating a new flavor. The list includes items like honey, hibiscus flowers, and molasses meringue. “I’ll pick out several ingredients [from the list] that I feel best capture the subject I’m working on,” she says, “then continuously narrow them down until it’s an edible combination.” It’s especially useful while working on private commissions, which Spiegelman offers to anyone living in the greater Baltimore area. (She’s currently not shipping flavors).

One commission centered around the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and two of her paintings in particular — including one from her series of animal skulls.

“While researching Georgia I discovered that she did a lot of her own cooking, grew her own plants, and even made her own yogurt,” says Spiegelman. “I wanted to incorporate these aspects, along with the painting of the animal skull, into the flavor.”

The result: Raspberry Frozen Yogurt with Bone Broth Caramel Sauce. “I used the raspberries because I wanted to match some of the color in her Red Canna paintings,” a vibrantly-hued abstract paintings of a red canna flower up-close.

Along with commissions and pop-up events around her city, Spiegelman also runs ice cream workshops. She’ll be heading to graduate school for gastronomic studies in the fall, though she says those hungry for knowledge shouldn’t worry: Through posts, pics, and occasional commissions, A Sweet History will still be serving up scoops of the past, one flavor at a time.

Source: npr

How Your Food is Engineered to Taste Great

Ben Tinker wrote . . . . . .

Who says being “vanilla” is a bad thing? It’s one of the most popular flavors in the world.

Whether it’s in cookies, cakes or ice cream, we just can’t seem to get enough.

The vast majority of bona fide vanilla bean is produced in Indonesia and Madagascar, but there’s simply not enough supply to meet the global demand.

That’s where “flavor houses” come in. Their flavor chemists are responsible for formulating the flavoring in virtually every product you eat and drink that is processed, preserved or packaged before it gets to you.

Case in point: Toward the end of the ingredient label on many packaged foods and drinks is the phrase “Contains natural and artificial flavoring.” But behind these nebulous words is carefully considered science, says Kim Juelg, a senior flavorist at Givaudan.

Headquartered in Switzerland, Givaudan is the biggest flavor house in the world, commanding nearly 20% of global market share, according to industry analysts Leffingwell & Associates.

‘Like Mother Nature intended’

Juelg began her career at Givaudan more than 20 years ago as an organoleptic scientist — a job title even her own father struggled to pronounce — working on the science of the senses. Her own favorite foods mostly include fruits, and she has an affinity for bananas that are so green, they are still crunchy.

“The flavors that we make go into consumer goods that are baked, that are fried, that are frozen — so, put through pretty rigorous processing, and they lose flavor,” Juelg told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “So what we do is try to add back to that and make that taste like Mother Nature intended.”

When Gupta asked whether a flavorist’s job is simply “re-creating what’s natural,” Juelg said, “a lot of it is … but we can (also) create fantasy flavors. We can create combinations maybe that Mother Nature didn’t intend.” She gave the example of a mojito, made up of mint, lime, sugar and rum. “We can re-create that in one flavor,” she said.

Depending on what individual compounds Juelg uses to “build” a particular flavor, it will be classified as either natural or artificial.

“Natural materials come from a natural source and are processed in a natural way. Synthetic materials are from a not-natural source, or they are not processed in a natural way,” said Juelg. “For instance, we use ethyl butyrate here in a lot of our fruit flavors. It’s a material that’s found in peaches and in strawberries and in blueberries. The molecule is the same, but it’s processed differently.”

Even if the compounds are identical, the method she uses to combine them could lead to different classifications. Either way, flavoring typically makes up less than 1% of the volume of a finished food product — and the formula remains top secret.

“It would be similar to a chef in a kitchen creating dinner for you and you want to take home that recipe to make a banana cream pie. That chef is not going to give you that recipe,” Juelg said.

Generally Recognized as Safe

Like all flavor houses, Givaudan is bound by strict confidentiality agreements with its clients, which include “all of the biggest global and national beverage companies in all product categories,” according a company spokesman.

Some flavors, such as black pepper, contain only a single ingredient. Others may contain hundreds or more — there really is no maximum.

A typical flavor, the spokesman said, contains 25 to 30 ingredients.

All approved flavoring ingredients are GRAS: Generally Recognized As Safe. They are “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use,” according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

For its part, the FDA defines a flavor as an ingredient “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

The agency does not require flavor ingredients to be listed individually on food labels. And food manufacturers, for their part, are not too keen to disclose their proprietary ingredients and formulas — their “secret sauce” — to would-be competitors.

Still, a list of all ingredients permitted for use in flavorings in the United States is maintained by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association in its Flavor Ingredient Library. Internationally, the Global Reference List is published by the International Organization of the Flavor Industry.

“We have chefs internally that work with us, and in a lot of instances, they make things, and then we re-create that into a flavor,” Juelg said. “They may create a gold standard of maple brown sugar oatmeal. That’s what I want my flavor to taste like.”

Gupta argued, “my mom would say you can’t re-create what’s she’s created in the kitchen. It’s her thing.”

“Sometimes you can’t,” Juelg agreed. “But if I can make it taste great and you can add water and have it in 30 seconds, then that’s a fabulous breakfast for my son.”

Source: CNN

Food Scientists have Discovered a Surprising Principle behind Good Recipes

Given the number of ingredients that humans eat, the total number of ways to combine them is on the order of 10 to the 15th power. And yet the actual number of recipes we eat is around one million—a small fraction of the total. That strongly suggests an organizing principle that, in recipe terms, sorts the wheat from the chaff.

So an ongoing challenge for food scientists is to discover laws that govern flavor combinations and use them to create new recipes yet to be experienced by human taste buds.

Today, Tiago Simas at Telefonica Research in Barcelona, Spain, and a few pals say they have discovered an important principle of flavor combination by studying foods of different cultures. This new insight could help create novel recipes.

The background to this group’s discovery is the hypothesis of food pairing developed by the chefs Francois Benzi and Heston Blumenthal. At first glance, foods such as chocolate and blue cheese can seem as different as it is possible for foods to be. And yet, these foods share 73 different flavor molecules.

That’s why at certain high-end restaurants, you’ll sometimes find blue cheese and chocolate in the same dishes. The thinking is that when ingredients contain the same flavor molecules, they can be successfully paired. The idea is that shared flavors help blend ingredients more effectively. Food pairing immediately suggests a novel way to create new recipes, which is why it rapidly gained influence among a certain breed of gastronomist.

Then in 2011, a curious piece of research revealed that food pairing was only part of the explanation behind successful recipes. In this work, a team at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, analyzed the network of links between ingredients in recipes from all over the world. In this network, ingredients are nodes in a web, linked when they share flavor molecules.

This approach turned the food-pairing hypothesis on its head. When recipes from North America and Western Europe are analyzed in this way, the networks reveal that food pairing is an important factor. But when the team analyzed recipes from East Asia (Korea and Japan, for example), they found exactly the opposite. These cuisines seem to combine the very foods that do not share flavor ingredients. Clearly the food-pairing hypothesis is just part of a bigger picture and in need of a serious upgrade.

Enter Simas and his colleagues. These guys have looked a little harder into the web of flavors behind recipes and discovered a deeper principle at work. The basic idea is that when two ingredients do not share flavors, the team look for a third ingredient with flavors in common with each of the first pair. In this way, they were able to identify flavor chains and explore how recipes in different parts of the world use them.

For example, apricot and whiskey do not share flavors with each other but do have flavors in common with tomato. This creates a flavor chain that links all three ingredients, making them suitable to be used in the same recipe.

The team call this food bridging. They define it as “the ability to connect a pair of ingredients, that may or may not have a direct connection, through a path of non-repeating ingredients.”

This has an important impact on recipes. While food pairing intensifies flavor by mixing ingredients in a recipe with similar chemical compounds, food bridging smooths any contrast between ingredients, say Simas and co.

So what role does food bridging play in recipes from different cultures? To find out, Simas and co examined the flavor networks of cuisines from various parts of world and then analyzed the respective roles of food pairing and food bridging in each cuisine.

In Latin America, for example, recipes exploit both food pairing and food bridging, while East Asian food seems to avoid both principles. Southeast Asian cuisines such as Thai and Vietnamese seem to rely only on food bridging, while North American and Western European food use only food pairing.

That’s interesting work that extends the principles behind the way we create recipes. Indeed, it reveals that food pairing is really a special case of food bridging in which the number of nodes in the flavor chain is 0.

A better understanding of these principles should help chefs create new recipes in specific styles. But it is by no means the be-all and end-all of cooking. Successful recipes have a wide range of different parameters in addition to flavor. There is the texture of the food, its temperature, its mouth feel, and its color, to name just a few.

Food bridging can certainly help with new recipes. But a truly universal tool for recipe creation will need to be much broader to incorporate these other factors into its model. That will require significant work.

But step by step, food scientists are learning how humans prune the list of all possible combinations of food to produce the combinations we actually end up eating.

Source: MIT Technology Review

7 Ways to Enhance the Flavour of Your Meals

Cooking at home can be healthy, rewarding and cost-effective. And, according to research, taste tops nutrition as the main reason why Americans buy one food over another. The foods you enjoy are likely the ones you eat the most, so make taste a kitchen priority when preparing healthy, nutritious meals.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers cooking tips to enhance flavor and retain nutrients without adding extra fat, calories or salt. To maximize food’s flavor and nutrition, start with high-quality ingredients at their peak quality. They don’t need to be the most expensive foods — or served in big portions. It’s also important to handle and store foods properly, because poor storage destroys flavor and quality.

Overcooking can destroy flavor and nutrients. So cook to retain nutrients, flavor, color, texture and overall appeal. Cooking can’t improve poor-quality foods, but it can enhance the flavors of high-quality foods.

Try these seven simple techniques to enhance flavor and experiment with flavor combinations.

  • Intensify the flavors of meat, poultry and fish with high-heat cooking techniques such as pan-searing, grilling or broiling, which help to brown meat and add flavor. Just don’t overcook, burn or char meat.
  • Grill or roast veggies in a very hot (450°F) oven or grill for a sweet, smoky flavor. Before popping them into the oven, brush or spray lightly with oil so they don’t dry out and sprinkle with herbs.
  • Caramelize sliced onions to bring out their natural sugar flavor by cooking them slowly over low heat in a small amount of oil. Use them to make a rich, dark sauce for meat or poultry.
  • Pep it up with peppers! Use red, green and yellow peppers of all varieties — sweet, hot and dried. Or, add a dash of hot pepper sauce.
  • Add a tangy taste with citrus juice or grated citrus peel: lemon, lime or orange. Acidic ingredients help lift and balance flavor.
  • Use small amounts of ingredients with bold flavors such as pomegranate seeds, chipotle pepper or cilantro.
  • Give a flavor burst with good-quality condiments such as horseradish, flavored mustard, chutney, wasabi, bean purees, tapenade and salsas of all kinds.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics