Understanding the smells of foods and beverages using olfactometers

Understanding the smells of foods and beverages using olfactometers

Sensory analysis plays a pivotal role in the food and beverage industry, allowing producers to produce delicious tasting products and engage consumers on a multi-sensory level. Among the various sensory elements, aromas occupy a special place, as they influence our perception of flavor and enhance the overall dining experience. Here, we discuss how olfactometers have emerged as indispensable tools in analyzing the aroma of foods and beverages.

Exotic golden smoke drifting away from the coffee beans

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The importance of odors in sensory analysis

Aromas are an integral part of the overall sensory experience of consuming foods and beverages, contributing to our perception of flavor and influencing our taste preferences and judgments about product quality. The human sense of smell is incredibly complex, capable of distinguishing thousands of different smells. Therefore, sensory analysis plays a crucial role in unraveling the complex relationship between odors and our sensory perceptions.

Recent developments in sensory analysis

Recent developments in sensory analysis have been driven by the desire to enhance the accuracy and reliability of olfactory assessments. Researchers and industry professionals are increasingly turning to advanced technologies to dissect and understand the nuances of odors. Olfometers, in particular, have become indispensable tools in this endeavor.

Accurate olfaction measurement

One important development in olfaction is improved accuracy in measuring odor. Microolfactometers are equipped with highly sensitive sensors and advanced analytical techniques, allowing accurate measurement of trace amounts of aromatic compounds. This level of accuracy is necessary to distinguish between subtle odor differences and ensure the reliability of sensory assessments.

Artificial intelligence integration

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) has raised the capabilities of olfactometers. Machine learning algorithms can be trained to recognize complex patterns in odor profiles, enabling olfactometers to provide more detailed and precise analyzes that improve the accuracy of sensory assessments and speed up the analysis process, making it more efficient for researchers and industry professionals.

An aromatic hint of Japanese Wagyu beef

In a recent 2021 study to explore the distinctive aroma of Japanese Wagyu beef, researchers used advanced sensory analysis techniques. Gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) was used, where gas chromatography was combined with sensory detection to identify the aromas responsible for Wagyu beef’s unique aroma. Sixty-three odor active compounds were detected, of which 39 were identified by GC-O analysis. Eight major compounds, including γ-hexalactone and γ-decalactone, were quantified using a stable isotope dilution assay.

Sensory evaluations revealed that Wagyu Type B exhibited a superior sweet and oily aroma compared to Holstein and Wagyu Type A. The study also investigated the relationship between odors and metabolites, and identified important compounds such as glutamine and decanoic acid. The results contribute to the understanding of factors that influence the high quality aroma of Wagyu beef, with γ-hexalactone proposed as a marker.

New portable olfactory device

In another 2018 study, researchers explored the use of a new portable olfactory device to manage nasal odors in the context of sensory analysis of foods and beverages. The study aimed to determine whether odors emitted through this device could affect participants’ taste perception. After confirming that participants were able to perceive odors using the device, they were asked to taste different foods and drinks with or without simultaneous olfactory stimuli (chocolate or citrus smell).

The results showed that the olfactory system effectively controls odor delivery and significantly influences participants’ ratings of taste dimensions, suggesting the potential for multisensory interactions in food and beverage perception.

The study presents a promising, easy-to-manage olfactory interface for laboratory experiments, and addresses the limitations of existing olfactometers in terms of size, complexity, and portability. Future applications may include virtual reality simulations and investigations into olfactory contributions to presence and memory.

Food industry concept banner.  A factory worker inspects a production line conveyor at a dairy factory using a tablet computer.

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Applications in the food and beverage industry

Applications of olfactometers in the food and beverage industry are diverse, from quality control to product development.

Quality control and new product development

Olfactory meters are useful in maintaining the consistency and quality of food and beverage products. By precisely measuring and analyzing aromas, these tools help identify deviations from established standards, which is crucial in industries such as coffee and wine, where aroma profiles are an integral part of a product’s identity. Likewise, by understanding the subtle differences between different aromas, researchers can experiment with new flavor combinations and improve existing recipes that contribute to product differentiation and meet evolving consumer preferences.

Odor profile

Scent profiling involves detailed analysis of the scent composition in a particular product. Olfactometers facilitate this by providing a comprehensive analysis of the volatile compounds present. This information is invaluable for producers aiming to enhance specific flavors or create a distinctive aroma profile for their products.

Challenges and future directions

While olfactometers have greatly advanced sensory analysis, challenges remain, and ongoing research is exploring new ways to address them. The human sense of smell is complex, and replicating this complexity in olfactometers represents an enormous challenge. Researchers are constantly improving the development of olfactometer technology to better mimic the complexities of human olfaction. Likewise, establishing globally accepted standardization is critical to ensuring consistency in sensory analysis across different laboratories and industries. Collaborative initiatives are underway to develop comprehensive odor databases that can serve as reference points for sensory evaluations.

While olfactometers focus on the sense of smell, the overall sensory experience involves a combination of taste, sight, and touch. Incorporating multisensory analysis into olfactometer technology is a direction of future research. This comprehensive approach would provide a more comprehensive understanding of how different sensory inputs interact to shape our overall perception of food and beverages.

See more: Improving food traceability using sensor technologies

References and further reading

Anton, M.J., et al. (2014). Aromatic profile of apple cider by quantitative chemometrics, gas chromatography and sensory analysis. Journal of Food Science. doi.org/10.1111/1750-3841.12323

Plotowska, P. Waardinke, W. (2008). Application of gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) in the analysis and evaluation of the quality of alcoholic beverages – a review. Food chemistry. doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.08.058

Riso, P., et al. (2018). Development and testing of a small-scale olfactometer for food and beverage perception in humans. Frontiers in Digital Humanities. doi.org/10.3389/fdigh.2018.00007

Ueda, S., et al. (2021). Exploring the characteristic aroma of beef from Japanese black cattle (Japanese Wagyu) through sensory evaluation, gas chromatography and olfactometry. Metabolites. doi.org/10.3390/metabo11010056

Wardenky, W., et al. (2013). Gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O), electronic noses (e-nose) and electronic tongues (e-tongues) to measure food flavor in vivo. Automated evaluation of the sensory quality of foods. doi.org/10.1533/9780857098856.2.195

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in his personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the terms and conditions of use of this website.

    (Signs for translation) Olfactory scale 

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