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Magnetic tongue predicts sensory descriptors.

The electronic nose, which detects odors, has a companion among emerging electronic sensing devices intended to complement abilities that once were considered strictly human. Harnessing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology is a magnetic tongue, which can be used to taste food and identify ingredients that people describe as sweet, bitter, sour and the like.

The ability to perceive a food's odor and flavor is a complicated physiological and psychological process that cannot be explained by simple models. It depends not only on the combination of ingredients in the product, but also on the emotional state of the sensory analyst. Trained taste testers eliminate some of the potential variation, but food processors need more objective ways to measure the sensory descriptors of their products. That's where electronic sensing technologies play a role.

Quantitative descriptive analysis is a technique used to describe the sensory features of a product. The availability of a number of instruments that can undertake this task has made it possible to calibrate sensory perception. In this frame, Danish scientists have tested the potential of NMR spectroscopy as a predictive tool to measure sensory descriptors.

Specifically, they have used an NMR metabolomic approach to differentiate analyzed samples based on their chemical composition. The researchers were able to correlate the NMR metabolomic fingerprints recorded for canned tomato samples to the sensory descriptors known as bitterness, sweetness, sourness, saltiness, tomato and metal taste, redness and density. This capability suggests that NMR might be a useful tool for the characterization of the sensory features of tomatoes.

The researchers analyzed 18 canned tomato products from various markets with NMR and found that the technology could estimate most of the tastes assessed by human taste testers. But the NMR instrument took an additional step. By determining chemical composition, it showed which compound is related to which sensory descriptor.

Further information. Anders Malmendal, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark; phone: 3532-7753; fax: 3535-6310; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:May 1, 2012
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