The interplay of flavours in a meal

"With this thesis, I wish to increase the basic understanding of how people perceive a meal," says Morten Thyregod Paulsen.

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PhD candidate Morten Thyregod Paulsen has researched into various ways of describing sensory interplay in meals. The thesis consists of four studies, the combined results of which can tell us something about how to measure sensory interplay and how this affects the consumers’ perception of flavour.

More sauce please!

In the first part of the study, Paulsen has looked more closely at how the flavour of salmon is affected by the different basic tastes. The basic tastes were presented in sauces developed by chefs. Working closely with chefs has been vital for developing realistic sauces so that the results are as close as possible to a real meal experience. The interplay was investigated with the aid of sensory analysis by Nofima’s sensory panel. It was found that the flavour of salmon changes with sauces using different basic tastes. For example, the combination with a salty sauce resulted in the flavour of salmon and of fish oil in the salmon being greatly reduced. This result may help to explain why we often eat fish with a sauce in the Nordic countries.

Dynamic flavour perception

Paulsen has also investigated whether it is possible to obtain more information about the interplay between salmon and sauce by using a dynamic sensory method. The dynamic came from describing how the flavour develops while chewing the sample and the aftertaste after spitting it out. He also linked the dynamic information to how much the consumers liked the sample.

“The results show that it is possible to describe dynamic interplay and that this can explain how much the samples were liked by the consumers. The timing of when specific properties were dominant had a great effect. If an acid taste is perceived early in the chewing phase, the consumer thought this was positive. If the acid taste comes late in the chewing phase, this is perceived as negative,” says Paulsen.

In the third study, Paulsen wished to investigate whether it was possible to describe differences in dynamic perception between samples with relatively small differences. Issues like these are especially relevant when reformulating salt-reduced products. This study was performed in partnership with Stabburet and investigated dynamic differences between salt-reduced grilling sausages. In sausages, the interplay between texture and flavour is important for the sensory perception.

The results indicated differences between the samples. These differences are not revealed in conventional taste tests. Even though the differences were relatively small, they showed that this is an area requiring further research.

Food and drink

In the final study, Paulsen investigated combinations of food and drink, an important interplay in many meals. In recent years, beer, and especially beer from micro breweries, has become more popular as a drink with food.

This study, which was in partnership with the Nøgne Ø brewery, studied whether it was possible to describe sensory interplay between two different types of beer and the basic tastes. The basic tastes were presented in soups and the relationship between consumers’ total perceptions was investigated.

“We looked closely at properties such as balance, complexity, harmony and acceptance of the combinations,” says Paulsen.

The results demonstrated no clear interplay in respect of the different basic flavours, but the type of beer affected consumer acceptance of the samples. It was also shown that consumers preferred complex combinations provided they were also perceived to be in harmony.

“Increasing our knowledge of sensory interplay in meals can help the industry to develop new, more healthy food and drink combinations with improved sensory properties. That is of course the most important thing in tests like these – finding out what people think is good to eat,” concludes Morten Thyregod Paulsen.

This work has been performed at Nofima, Europe’s largest food research institute, and financed by the Foundation for Research Levy on Agricultural Products (FFL). The supervisors were: Margrethe Hersleth (UMB/Nofima), Elling-Olav Rukke (UMB) and Øydis Ueland (Nofima). Morten Thyregod Paulsen’s disputation was on Friday 6 September 2013.

Consumer and sensory sciences  

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