How are the foods assessed for their flavor by the processors before deciding about their quality and acceptance by the consumers? In many cases there are marker chemicals representing the major flavor notes which can be quantitatively estimated using advanced instrumentation/ gadgets like gas-liquid chromatography, high pressure liquid chromatography, nuclear magnetic resonance instrument, mass spectroscopy etc. Still in cases where the flavor composition is very complex no instrument will be able to correctly forecast the quality and therefore human nose, oral cavity and tongue play important roles in assessing the flavor and texture. The science of organoleptic evaluation or sensory evaluation has progressed so much to day that there are reliable and dependable objective tests using humans, especially trained panelists to take decisions regarding product quality.Tea tasting, coffee tasting and wine tasting are still in vogue and specially trained taste panels do these evaluation regularly with remarkable reproduceability. Now comes the news that an artificial nose has been designed by a firm in the UK which can assess the quality of chocolates suitable for use by major chocolate producers with some degree of reliability. Here is a take on this new development which may be a standard feature of quality testing protocols by the chocolate industry in future.
"Snacking giant Mondelez - behind brands such as Cadburys, Oreo and Kenco - has just installed an artificial nose at its UK research headquarters that it hopes can sniff out some new ways to create products, perhaps making them a little more Willy Wonka-ish along the way.The way that the compounds in chocolate work together can be analysed by the machine The machine, based at Reading in Berkshire, has a pretty sophisticated sense of smell, able to identify the compounds that make up different foodstuffs - in the case of chocolate, about 40. "We have always been able to measure the compounds but this is the first time that we've been able to analyse how they interact with each other in real time," explained Alex Webbe, senior group leader at Mondelez international global science and technology research centre.So when the artificial nose is given some chocolate to smell, it is able to pick out two key compounds - a cheesy note not usually associated with chocolate, alongside the more traditional cocoa flavour. The progress of the compounds as they are put through an artificially created eating process can be monitored via a computer readout, offering a kind of digital signature for the chocolate. Scientists can see how the water-soluble "cheesy" flavour dies off when the chocolate is chewed, giving way to the more familiar cocoa flavour. So what does this real-time view of chocolate tell us about this popular favourite guilty pleasure? One thing it suggests is that chocolate is probably best enjoyed "at ambient temperature", said Mr Webbe. But it isn't just about taste. "Some people like the texture of chocolate straight out of the fridge." The artificial nose is also being used to analyse the flavours in chewing gum and work out why they come to an end, perhaps even suggesting ways that it can keep flavour for longer."
How far this "nose" will correlate with consumer perception of what is to be expected from a piece of chocolate remains to be seen. Though at present this instrument is used largely for theoretical research into the basic flavors of chocolate, the innovators expect this to be useful tool to profile the desirable flavors in many products with multiple chemical substances, each contributing certain notes to the final flavor of the product. Will there be similar instruments evolved in future for products like tea, coffee and wine with a cocktail of complex flavor constituents? Only future will tell!