Position: University Student, Field: Food biochemistry, Place of Work: University of Otago
 

Sam is studying how consumers respond to food. He is particularly interested in how people assess freshness and taste of foods. The aim is to identify food characteristics that tend to appeal to the majority consumers. Food manufacturers use this information to show them which characteristics they need to incorporate into their products.

Job

My most favourite part is relating everything together...

There are two main methods that Sam uses to find out what people think of particular foods:

1. Trained food testers
A food tester has been trained to be able to give specific feedback on the appearance, smell, feel, and taste of foods. Up to 12 foods might be tested at a time. Sam then meets with the food testers to discuss what qualities they found appealing (or otherwise) in each of the foods they tried.

Often, a particular quality of a food is something that several food testers may (or may not) find appealing. For example, most people prefer their apples crunchy, but their bread soft.

2. Chemical analysis.
A lot of what we think about a food depends on the chemicals that they give off – something which we detect as smells. This is particularly powerful with baked goods, such as bread and cakes.

One way to study this is for Sam to place a food sample in a container and collect a sample of air from the container. Another way is for him to get a person to eat a particular, while Sam samples the air from that person’s nose.

In both cases, the air is analysed using a laboratory instrument called a PTR Mass Spectrometry.

Career Pathway

Sam has always enjoyed his food – from the preparation to the eating!

Whilst training to be a chef, he found that he particularly enjoyed studying flavours and how they could be combined to appeal to customers. This led to further study, and a food science degree from Otago University.

While Sam had never imagined himself doing a PhD, he found his studies so interesting that he wanted to know more and develop a deeper understanding of how things worked.

Crop & Food Research, now called Plant & Food Research, and the Baking Industry Research Trust have sponsored Sam’s PhD studies, and he is thrilled that his results will have immediate commercial applications through these ties.

Interests

Mountain biking keeps Sam busy in his spare time.

Published 14 November 2007