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Mar 02, 2007

Research adds flavour to food industry

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Africa|Components|Defence|Education|Health|System|Technology|Africa|Product|Products
Africa|Components|Defence|Education|Health|System|Technology|Africa|Products
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Flavour research, a food technology that has been around for a number of years, could add significant value to the food industry in South Africa, says University of Johannesburg’s Dr Aubrey Parsons.

Flavour research involves identifying why certain foods taste the way they do. The goal in flavour research is to try to make food pro-ducts taste nature identical. Parsons believes that achieving this goal is not particularly complicated as man-made chemicals are exactly the same as the chemicals found in nature.

He says that the most important aspect of flavour research is to identify key isolates, which are usually the three or four major components of a food product that will produce a flavour profile. The highest concentration of ingredients that are present are often at levels of parts for every trillion.

“The chemicals produced in nature are extremely powerful, and when they are added to food, any food can taste better,” he comments.

Parsons believes that the existence of flavour research adds value to consumers, and questions why so many consumers accept mediocrity in the flavour of their food.

“Why should people, in 2007, still be eating boring food? A good example is a chicken that has come out of these mass production areas. If you cook it and eat it as it is, you have to have quite an imagination to know that you are eating chicken. When it is herbaceously treated with reactive flavours that have come through the maillard process (a form of nonenzymatiz browning), however, it helps make flavourless food taste more exciting.” Local food companies often approach Parsons, to assist them in developing and improving flavours. On one such occasion, South Africa was required to import maize following a drought. Parsons assisted by producing a mealie flavourant to improve the taste of the inferior-tasting, imported maize.

Parsons comments that flavour research could even potentially improve people’s diets and general health, as foods that traditionally do not excite people much in terms of taste, but are healthy, such as fruit and vegetables, could be made to taste better. Further, the shelf life of fruit and vegetables could be improved.

While Parsons is involved in research that encourages improved taste to food, he does not see this betterment as a defence for overindulgence. He refutes the argument that flavour research contributes to disproportionate eating habits. Parsons says that extensive tests have proven that the chemicals used in flavour research are not harmful. He explains that the general public often view certain ingredients or types food as harmful without real substance, as those ingredients or foods have not been tested thoroughly enough for people to be sure that they are harmful.

Parsons says that unsubstantiated claims on dangerous food practices extend to other food industry debates, such as the resistance to geneti-cally modified foods. Many experts view these foods as harmful, but Parsons believes that this technology is an answer to poverty alleviation.

“It increases the production at no extra cost and is drought- and insecticide-resistant when you need it. Resistance towards it is owing to a lack of education on the subject.” The scope of the potential of flavour research is not limited to food products. Parsons is currently researching the source of the taste of beetroot, which he hopes will eventually result in beetroot being applicable in the medical field. Research is also being conducted around phytochemicals, a technology that is being transported overseas.

Phytochemicals exist in plants such as the wild African potato, and could be a valuable resource in fighting immune system diseases. Parsons stresses the potential positive outcomes of this research and the uses of phytochemicals.

“It could lead to the treatment and cure of many complicated problems,” he concludes.
Edited by: Guy Copans

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