Science 22 December 2016

Three scientific facts
about flavour

It is becoming increasingly important that the flavour of potatoes caters to the wish of the consumer. However, there are many misconceptions about flavour. This article gives some scientific facts about flavour and how the sector can use this to its advantage.

Flavour is objective and is therefore measurable

Hans van Doorn, HZPC Programme leader for Quality and Biometry & Quantitative Genetics, has been working with his team for 11 years now to make all properties of a potato measurable. According to him: ‘What many people don’t know is that you can measure flavour. Tools are available that measure thousands of fragments that are related to the properties of aroma and flavour. Together they reveal how a potato tastes. We also conduct research with a panel of trained connoisseurs. The potatoes are scored on flouriness, dryness, earthiness and freshness. Preference is subjective, but flavour is objective and is therefore measurable.’

Fact 1: Aroma affects how much we eat

Dutch scientists conducted an experiment in which volunteers were given a dessert to eat, while their nostrils were exposed to various aromas. What happened? The stronger the aroma, the fewer the bites that were taken. By manipulating the aromas, 5 - 10% less was eaten.

Fact 2: Coffee tastes better in a proper mug than in a plastic cup

Researchers in America discovered that the firmness of a cup affects how people assess the taste and quality of coffee. The same beverage in a proper mug was more appreciated than when it was offered in a plastic cup. This study clearly shows the importance of not underestimating good presentation.

Fact 3: Some people have more taste buds than others

The perception of taste and aroma varies. Some people have a stronger perception of flavours than others. This does not automatically mean that they are connoisseurs. We’ve all experienced loss of taste when we have a cold. A stronger flavour is then necessary for us to taste something. This principle also applies for people that have a strong sense of taste.

How can the potato sector use this information to its advantage?

Hans van Doorn explains: ‘You can create a variety that tastes perfect, but it still may not appeal to everyone. The majority of people know that flavour, aroma and texture go hand in hand, but the facts mentioned above show that the perception of taste is also an important factor.

“The perception of taste is strongly influenced by the context”

‘The perception of taste is strongly influenced by a person’s personality and the context in which they eat. In other words, social and psychological factors. This is often given little consideration. Researchers even consider it to be 'interference', because these factors are beyond their control and are not constant. They do everything in their power to exclude them from studies, because they obscure the links the researchers are trying to establish. However, in marketing and retail terms, these factors simply cannot be ignored.

A perfect product in the wrong packaging is less likely to be appreciated. PepsiCo learned that lesson in the United States when they modified the packaging of their best selling orange juice and sales plummeted. Eye-tracking showed that the new packaging did not stand out enough on the shelf. When it comes to the potato, the external characteristics and how it is presented are also important for the consumer's perception of taste.’

HZPC & taste

We conduct research at HZPC because we believe that potatoes should cater to the consumers’ taste. When we develop a new variety, it has to be appreciated. That in itself goes beyond the taste. It also concerns the right presentation and creating perception. That’s why we not only work with panels of connoisseurs, but also consumer panels that let us know whether something is tasty or not. Our challenge is to translate all of these facts and factors into concepts that appeal to the consumer. We endeavour to achieve this together with our chain partners.

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