Set up by food ingredient consultants Giract, the organisation revealed that Luke Bell from the University of Reading in the UK was this year’s winner.
His entry: ‘Rocket Science; Phytochemical, Postharvest, Shelf-life & Sensory Attributes of Rocket Species,’ delved into the chemical content of the edible herb Rocket (Eruca sativa), focusing on the flavour components and beneficial effects.
“Although Rocket is very popular, there is little information on its health giving and sensory properties,” said Dr Andy Taylor, programme adjudicator and professor from the University of Nottingham.
“Luke's project studied these properties at many different levels and the knowledge can now be used to select or develop new varieties with specific, desirable properties.”
The European Flavour Research Programme aims to encourage students into food flavour research as an area of further study and a career within the industry.
The initiative is a response to the European Commission’s findings that have highlighted a decline in the quality of European research as well as its capacity to innovate.
“Giract, along with academia and the private sector, can provide the right platform for a project that will contribute to encouraging students in Europe to opt for flavour science in their advanced studies, expanding flavour research competence in Europe,” said Dr Velamur Krishna Kumar, director at Giract.
Along with Giract, the eight companies that sponsor the programme are Biorigin, DSM Food Specialties, Givaudan, IFF, Kerry, Lesaffre, MCLS (Mitsubishi Corporation) Europe and Nestlé.
More flavour winners
Giract also announced the six winners of its Flavour Research Student bursaries of €3000.
The successful research titles included: ‘In-mouth product experience of high protein foods with malnourished elderly (Sophie Lester, University of Nottingham, UK), ‘The control of malt roasting operations for consistent delivery of desired product flavour (Hebe Parr, University of Nottingham, UK) and ‘Aroma improvement of dry fermented sausage with reduced nitrite levels (Laura Perea, Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC), Spain.
“Old people and their need for flavoursome foods is a major topic for the food industry,” said Dr Taylor.
“This project's focus was the high protein foods that old people need to maintain muscle mass and how to make them palatable as there can be significant interactions between flavours and proteins that degrade the flavour experience.”
Dr Taylor also highlighted the importance of reducing nitrite in cured meat, a recommendation to improve food safety but also effect meat product quality as it affects the natural microflora in old established products like Spanish fermented sausage.
“Flavour providers need to move with the times do the innovations are varied,” added Dr Taylor.
“For example malt is an ancient food ingredient but producing high quality malt efficiently to meet modern issues like sustainability and profitability harness new scientific tools to determine the key parameters and ultimately yield to optimisation if the process.”
In delving deeper into the science of flavour Dr Krishna Kumar was able to make clearer the qualities both consumers and flavour innovators were looking for in the taste of a food.
“A flavour can be used to provide/accentuate a flavour or hide/suppress unwanted flavour(s). People focus on the former while for industry professionals BOTH are important,” he said.
“There are flavours which are traditionally popular (e.g vanilla in an ice cream). Consumers tend to associate certain flavours with certain products. Any shift in these preferences is rather slow. The appreciation of food is a protracted and complex activity and it takes a while to find equilibrium.”
“However, once that equilibrium is reached the brain finds it difficult to break it. A blue colour food or a chocolate-smelling soup would be difficult to succeed in the market place. Thus, successful new flavours for established foods are rather rare.”
Natural vs. synthetic
The consumer shift towards natural products with simpler, natural flavours is one that food and drink companies have been notoriously slow to respond, according to market research firm Mintel.
But this lack of action may be due in part to the mine field of legislative red tape that confuses rather than clarifies the use of the term ‘natural’ and where it can be applied. Regulatory-wise Dr Krishna Kumar could give no definitive answers to this ongoing issue.
“From a regulatory point of view, a natural flavour in the EU is defined as one with the source material being vegetable, animal, or microbiological, and that it must be produced by a traditional food preparation process.
“In the US, an essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis may be termed as a natural flavour, although neither the FDA nor EFSA encourages the use of the term ‘natural’ on the label.
“On top of that, the consumer probably has a completely different understanding of the term ‘natural flavour’ and so this may have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.”