The Importance of Aroma

Aroma is the first cousin of taste. In fact, much of what we call taste is an intricately entwined matrix of flavor, aroma chemicals and texture or mouthfeel.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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"Aroma testing is always a challenge," says Kathleen Rutledge, founder of 21st Sensory Inc. (www.21stsensory.com), Bartlesville, Okla. "Ventilation issues are paramount to ensure the aroma from one product is not present when the next is evaluated. The objectives of the evaluation are important. For example, soy analogs can have a 'beany' aroma that does not elicit as much anticipatory interest as grilled beef. So a formulator can add smoke and some hydrolyzed vegetable protein or yeast ingredients to heighten the meat-like aromas.

"These compounds also can serve to mask any uncharacteristic aromas," continues Rutledge. "Often, the product developer submitting products for testing does not reveal what has been done to the product to increase or mask aroma. There is often a misguided idea that telling the testing group what the objectives are will bias the study. The opposite is true. With so many sensory signals being evaluated, the sensory group can benefit from being told the objectives and the work can be focused and the extraneous eliminated."

"The key for companies considering sensory testing is, what specific questions are you trying to answer? Do you want to understand the impact of substituting a new ingredient? Would you like to know how your product stacks up against a competitor's products? Different questions require different kinds of sensory testing, different objectives and different timelines," Drake adds.

Preserving the aroma

Given the nature of odor molecules - volitalized compounds - time is their natural enemy. Thus, reducing the rate at which aroma molecules evaporate protects the flavor and aroma of food.

"Acidulants are known to affect the rate of evaporation of various volatile ingredients," explains Barbara Heidolph, food marketing technical service and applications specialist for St. Louis-based ICL Performance Products LP (www.astaris.com). "Acidulants and acid salts can control the pH of a food or beverage via adjustment and buffering. Such acidulants and acid salts include the organic acids, such as adipic acid, citric acid and malic acid, or inorganic acids, such as phosphoric acid.

"Each acid has an ideal buffering range, so selection can be made based upon the target pH of the food product. Acid salts also may be used," she continues. "Monosodium phosphate is one of the best buffering agents available. When monosodium phosphate and disodium phosphate are used in combination, they can target a specific pH and maintain it."

While ICL does not make products that enhance aromas in food, the company does make ingredients that may affect the rate of evaporation of various volatile compounds and aid in aroma stabilization, thereby controlling the aroma of the food. Their technical experts work with the formulators to aid in selection of the right ingredient for their application as well as assist in process design, materials of construction and packaging. Other functional ingredients that may aid in aroma enhancement include: sequestrants, enzymes and of course antioxidants.

"Antioxidants help to stabilize the food and prevent deleterious reactions including rancidity," adds Heidolph. "Acidulants and sequestrants act as synergist with most antioxidants by interacting with metal ions such as copper and iron, preventing them from inhibiting the antioxidant function. Additionally acids and acid salts supply the desired reducing environment of hydrogen ions that will aid in regeneration of antioxidants during the storage life of a food or beverage."

The aromas and flavors of many of natural processes can be captured through distillation, extraction and other methods and be concentrated for use in other formulations. For example, Mastertaste's Zesti-Smoke line captures the flavor, aroma and even appearance of a traditional meat-smoking process by condensing natural wood smoke vapor with water," says Mastertaste's Manheimer. "Natural isolates, essential oils and oleoresins can help contribute to the consumer's experience."

This can be used in sauce and marinade applications to give the consumer the same experience they might have with a product that had been traditionally smoked.

"Aroma and flavor go hand in hand, just as you would see in any natural food process," says Manheimer. "Smoking meats will give the end product a specific aroma and flavor. Another example is the concentration of aromas from juices like citrus and apple, which possess a different distinct aroma and flavor."

Effective use of natural aromas is more than a mere mixing of chemicals because the intricate association between taste and aroma goes beyond simple chemical detection. We're accustomed to certain tastes and odors accompanying one another and can be put off by what are perceived as incongruent mixes.

Aroma and taste are inseparable qualities of food; altering one influences the other. This influence requires the most stringent of testing techniques that utilize the most sophisticated of instruments   the human instrument, the one owned by each consumer.

Note to Marketing
Authenticity of taste and aroma is often linked to cultural experience. Increasingly, consumers are seeking different cultural experiences through food. "Today it's more important than ever for food and beverage processors to be able to step up the consumer's sensory experience," says Stephen Manheimer, marketing director for Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J. "Exaggerated and exotic flavors and aromas are very popular. Consumers are seeking heightened states of sensory stimulation, (and the) demand for spicier, more flavorful or more exotic tastes is apparent in today's market. When flavorists create flavors for processors, they are striving for not only a creative end-product but an authentic one as well. This is important because when a consumer bites into a strawberry Danish, or takes a sip of peach iced tea, they expect authenticity."
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