Event at AgCenter sensory lab highlights role of taste in food science

Olivia McClure  |  6/16/2017 8:38:25 PM

(06/16/17) BATON ROUGE, La. — Visitors to the LSU AgCenter Sensory Services Lab got a behind-the-scenes look at what food scientists do and the role human senses play in their work at an event held on June 15.

Geaux Rouge, an organization that promotes Baton Rouge’s culture and arts, arranged the event, which drew an audience of about 20 people.

Louise Wicker, director of the AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, welcomed the group, saying she was glad to see their interest in food science and the lab’s operations.

“Most people have no idea how they get food from the farm to the table,” she said. “There’s a whole bunch of food scientists in between. … They make it delicious, cost-effective, convenient.”

The attendees toured the lab facilities and got to see what it’s like to participate in a study. They tasted two syrups in a room that has several booths and used computers to indicate which sample was sweeter.

They also took a test that involved placing four paper strips on their tongues and writing down what it tasted like to determine if they are supertasters, or sensitive to bitter tastes.

About 25 percent of Americans are supertasters, said AgCenter food scientist Witoon Prinyawiwatkul. They often don’t like green vegetables, which contain bitter bioactive compounds, and fats, which they perceive as bitter and unpleasantly sour. And they tend to consume more salt because they use it to suppress bitterness.

Most Americans, supertaster or not, eat too much salt, Prinyawiwatkul said. Doing so can lead to high blood pressure and raise the risk of heart problems. Reducing the sodium content of foods, however, is a challenge.

“It’s not so simple because salt makes food tasty,” he said.

He has identified a couple of solutions. One is adding a compound that blocks TAS2R38, the bitter taste receptor, to foods that supertasters may perceive as bitter.

Another method depends on the culinary arts by distracting supertasters from bitterness with other tastes. Flavorful herbs and spices can mask bitter tastes, and people often think foods that are visually pleasing and have strong aromas taste better because more than one of their senses are engaged, Prinyawiwatkul said.

Taste can be manipulated, he said, because combinations of tastes don’t make a new one. Rather, certain taste qualities within the mixture are either enhanced or suppressed.

“We explore our knowledge about sense of taste and apply that to make food healthier,” he said.

Also at the event, attendees were urged to join Tiger Tasters, which is a pool of people the sensory lab can call on to participate in consumer tests of products. Companies often request specific demographics for the tests, so it is helpful to have a diverse group of tasters to draw from, said Ashley Gutierrez, a food scientist who manages the lab and works with the AgCenter Food Incubator.

Anyone interested in the Tiger Tasters program can sign up online.

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LSU AgCenter food scientist Witoon Prinyawiwatkul speaks about the Sensory Services Lab at an event organized by Geaux Rouge on June 15. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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Attendees of an event at the LSU AgCenter Sensory Services Lab sit at booths as they sample two types of syrup and use computers to indicate which one tasted sweeter. The colored lights are used to study how color affects perception of taste and other factors about the food. The event was organized by Geaux Rouge and held on June 15. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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A booth at the LSU AgCenter Sensory Services Lab awaits a taste tester on June 15. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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Attendees of an event at the LSU AgCenter Sensory Services Lab listen as AgCenter food scientist Ashley Gutierrez, right, explains features of a kitchen during a tour of the Animal and Food Sciences Laboratories Building. The event was organized by Geaux Rouge and held on June 15. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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