Number four flavour house Symrise builds a tool that brings new opportunities in product development for food technologists through a stronger understanding of the complex nature of foodstuffs, writes Lindsey Partos.
The firm has developed a high-temperature liquid chromatography method known as "LC Taste" that allows researchers to separate aroma chemicals and flavouring components from solutions, using a non-toxic blend of solvents.
Essentially, a splitter device links the mobile phase of the liquid chromotography to human taste buds.
An online panel is directly connected to the liquid chromotography, and able to give a comment about the taste - bitter, sweet, pungent et al - of food materials under mechanical analysis.
"By understanding the presence of undesirable 'notes', this new technology will give food developers the chance to search and screen compounds that they want to avoid in their final food product," says Dr. Gerhard Krammer, senior vice president of flavour innovation at the German firm Symrise .
Dr. Krammer quotes the example of soy based products. "People don't want the bitter note: our technology can identify it in the compound, thereby enabling the food technologist to do something about it, by avoiding or masking the undesirable note," he tells FoodNavigator.com.
Once food engineers know the compound, they can be quite flexible with the formulation, he adds.
Immediately tasting isolated components makes it possible to evaluate olfactory (aroma), retronasal (through the mouth to the nose) trigeminal (spicy, warming, cooling et al) and taste characteristics.
The LC Taste user can recognise key flavouring substances such as vanilla and maltol, as well as substances such as bittering agents, amino acids / peptides, sucrose, flavour enhancers, sugar and capsaicinoids.
The new technique is currently being used for dairy, beverage and culinary applications.
Food technologists currently use laborious fractionation methods to improve their understanding of the non-volatile aspects of food. Dr. Krammer suggests his firm's new technology, that "doesn't use additional solvents but uses high temperatures," is far less time-consuming.
"This method enables food scientist to see the blueprint of food," adds Dr. Krammer.
Symrise claims this new method can be used for product development in a wide range of foods, including beverages, yoghurts, prepared meals and savoury snacks.
Foods contain substances that act upon the senses, such as volatile aroma components as well as both volatile and non-volatile flavouring substances.
These compounds convey key sensory impressions by stimulating the roughly 5 million olfactory cells in the nose and/or the taste buds on our tongues.
In addition to olfactory stimulation (smells), these impressions mainly include gustatory perception (tastes), such as sweet, savory, acidic, bitter and umami (from the Japanese word for flavorful).
Trigeminal perceptions such as spicy, warming, cooling or tingly round out the overall impression, which is what determines whether a food tastes good to us or fails to meet our expectations.
Depending on even the most subtle structural differences in aroma and flavoring compounds, food may taste "home-made" or may fail to give us any real pleasure.
Chromatography can be used to separate flavouring substances, which can then be evaluated for their sensory characteristics after a certain period of time. Gas chromatography/olfactometry (also called olfactory GC) is used to separate aroma/flavouring substances, which can then be inhaled in the carrier gas and surrounding air and evaluated by smell.
High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) allows researchers to analyse mixtures of substances in solution, but the components isolated cannot be tasted directly, because the mobile phases typically used are toxic and have to be removed using complex separation procedures.
Toxic substances can be removed from flavourings using thermal processes or extractions, but these methods subject the flavouring compounds to extreme stress and can significantly alter them.
High-temperature liquid chromatography (HTLC), an offshoot of HPLC, is more effective, says Symrise. HTLC can be performed using non-toxic solvent mixtures, thereby eliminating the need for complicated purification steps that can affect the flavour constituents.
Pure water and/or aqueous mixtures can be used as solvents; additional components, such as oils, fats, ethanol, physiologically tolerable salts such as sodium chloride, and acids such as phosphoric acid can be added to the mixture depending on the application.
The Holzminden-based firm has issued a patent for its 'LC Taste' technique.
Private equity owned Symrise, formed in a 2002 merger between flavour firms Haarmann & Reimer and Dragoco, has just headed into the second round of bidding for the food chemicals arm of German group Degussa.