E3S Post of the Month

Learning about flavourings in food products at the University of Reading – E3S Post of the Month

Niklas Pontesegger; PhD Candidate at Graz University of Technology, Institute of Analytical Chemistry and Food Chemistry; Stremayrgasse 9/II, 8010 Graz, Austria

“If you are a bit like me and you sometimes wonder what your food is made of, probably you already came across a certain term: Flavouring. Flavourings are added to a plethora of food products like beverages, sweets, snacks, sauces and many more. Usually this term can be found at the very end of a food labelling. Sometimes there is natural flavouring, in other cases it specifies the aroma it relates to, like summer fruit flavouring or vanilla flavouring. However, it is quite difficult to find more information on this subject.

Luckily, I was selected to take part in the annual “Flavourist Training Course” at the University of Reading (UoR), UK. This 3-week course was developed by experts of UoR in collaboration with the British Society of Flavourists (BSF) and is supported by the International Federation of Essential Oil and Aroma Trades (IFEAT). The target group of this course is mainly graduates working in the flavour or food industry seeking to upgrade their skills. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of such a course as a PhD student and I am happy to share my experience and to take you into the world of flavours.

The first week was all about raw materials. We evaluated several sets of aroma compounds by both, odour and taste. Many classes of chemicals such as esters, alcohols, or lactones. were discussed one by one and all impressions were shared with each other, whether it reminded us of a certain fruit or if we thought it would fit well in a specific flavour. It was interesting to notice that a variety of aroma chemicals reminded us of tropical fruits like bananas or mangos, while other fruits like grapes were not mentioned very often. Smelling, tasting and evaluation of over one hundred aroma compounds can get quite exhausting. To give our taste and odour senses a break, we had lectures in between about the chemistry behind natural flavour formation and on the topic of sensory profiling.

In the second week, we were taught different aroma analysis techniques before we entered in the world of natural aroma compounds. We began by spending a day learning about the origin of different citrus essential oils and how small changes in processing can have a big impact on their sensory profile. Another day was reserved for herbs and spices, where we dived into the topic and went as far as comparing the geographical origin of mint extracts. The last two days of the week were all about the savoury area. We generated meat flavour without meat (process reaction flavours), learned about the (huge) differences between flavour enhancers like glutamate (MSG), soy sauce and yeast extracts and also learned how to flavour our own crisps. During the week’s lectures, we got information on flavour legislation, the use of process reaction flavours and top-note savoury aroma.

The last week was probably the most stressful one. After learning about sweeteners and the use of high impact odour chemicals, we were shown some technical aspects. After having a lecture on different flavour delivery systems, we had the opportunity to see the process in small scale at the UoR pilot plant. The aim for the rest of the week was to prepare our own flavourings. This was very new to me. As part of my PhD I usually separate aroma chemicals from natural products to analyse them and here I was asked to mix them together to create my very own flavouring. In the beginning, I found it very difficult, because I thought I could be very creative with my choice of raw material, and from there it would be easy to adjust flavourings to my liking. Well, it turned out to be more difficult than I expected since when creating a flavouring, ideally, it should remind you of a natural aroma/product, rather than an artificial one. In the end I was able to present a strawberry flavour and a black tea flavour to the group and our lecturers. I was very proud of my result, considering it was my first attempt, but the road there was quite bumpy.

As part of the course, we were awarded with a certificate and the membership of the BSF. However, these things could never express how much I actually learned during those three weeks in the UK. I would like to finish this post by thanking all lecturers, who filled these three weeks with their expertise and a special thanks goes to Prof. Don Mottram, who did a splendid job in organising this course and overcame many challenges with all the difficulties we all have faced during the last 2 years. Lastly, I would also like to thank my fellow participants who made this experience even more enriching and with whom I will definitely stay in touch.

For further information please go to: https://www.reading.ac.uk/food/short-courses/flavourist-training

I would also like to encourage you to listen to the newly installed BSF podcast “Flavour Talks”, which can be found on many different podcast platforms: https://www.reading.ac.uk/food/short-courses/flavourist-training

Yours sincerely,
Niklas Pontesegger

Email me: pontesegger@tugraz.at
Contact me: https://www.linkedin.com/in/npontesegger/

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