One of the current projects that is being run through the Deakin University sensory lab is being run by PhD student Penny Oliver, with help from Horticulture Australia. Penny is a year through her project, and has taken over the lab with strawberries, fruit puree, and a panel of trained participants who gather at least twice a week to talk strawberries.
The project has been funded by Horticulture Australia in an effort to produce a more flavoursome strawberry variety, that will be bred and produced locally. Most current strawberry varieties are bred for their appearance, longevity and resistance to both cold and pests, but with less regard for flavour. However, Horticulture Australia is taking it upon themselves (and ourselves!) to give the public what they want – more delicious fruit.
Participants were first screened for their tasting ability, with testing of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savoury) , to ensure that only the best tasters were included. More testing has followed, with participants being tested on identification of flavours.
Penny has been training her participants to improve their tasting palates further by identifying the flavours within specific types of strawberries. These flavours are varied, with descriptors such as ‘honey’ ‘vanilla’ ‘rose’ and ‘green’ being used to describe the properties of these varieties.
Penny has combined pureed strawberries with a number of other products to ensure that participants are all on the same page when they’re describing a strawberry as tasting like ‘plum’ or ‘fruity’.
And while some products have been more difficult to reach consensus on (I’m looking at you ‘green’!), participants are now in the ‘intensity’ phase of their training. This involves discussing where on a scale the intensity of the flavour falls. For example, if a strawberry had a relatively small ‘citrus’ flavour component, it would be reported as such;
With the strawberry season coming up rapidly (though not as rapidly as expected given the weather!) Penny is looking forward to providing more varieties for analysis. These varieties will be tasted, smelled, examined and discussed to come up with a specific flavour profile for each. These profiles will then be used in further research to determine which flavour profiles are most preferred by strawberry consumers.
This ‘liking’ phase of testing is slated to begin in February of 2014, though our original panel of tasters are unfortunately excluded from participation due to their previous involvement.
If you are interested in participating in tasting strawberries and discussing your preferences, please contact Penny Oliver on firstname.lastname@example.org