ICI-owned flavour firm Quest International worked with Netherlands-based NIZO food research to develop an artificial throat that mimics the way humans taste.
Slicing out the panel of human tasters, their findings are set to save food and beverage makers both time and money, equating to a competitive turnaround to market.
"We now have a predictive model that means food technologists can avoid the traditional 'trial and error' approach relied on previously thereby saving resources, such as flavour ingredients, and time," Jack Burger, senior scientist at Quest and the project leader for the artificial throat development explains to FoodNavigator.com.
"We realised that the key to understanding this would be to investigate in detail the connection between the act of swallowing and the effects taking place in the nose: to look at them in isolation would be to ignore a vital part of the sensory experience," he adds.
The artificial throat process uses glass tubes and a segment of rubber tubing controlled with a clamp. A test liquid is put into the top tube, the clamp is then opened allowing the liquid to coat the tube. Air is then passed up the tube, acting as the human breath.
"This technology can help us understand why that first breath matters so much and how individual differences in swallowing physiology contribute to taste perception," comments lead researcher Alexandra Boelrijk at NIZO food research, who worked very closely with Quest on the €2.5 million ICI-funded project.
The resulting 'breath' is sent into an MS Nose, enabling it to be quickly analysed by a mass spectrometer to determine the nature and level of volatile compounds that lead to flavour release and perception. On the first breath up to 80 per cent of the volatiles are released from beverages to the olfactory system.
"A mathematical model has been developed that can predict flavour release for various liquids. Initial tests have proved good with the model showing the same release profiles as those from the artificial throat and those from a human," said Burger, adding that the process will further knowledge on the complex flavour-matrix systems.
Boelrijk commented that the artificial throat is particularly pertinent for research into sports or low carbohydrate positioned beverages, considered to be more complicated because their proteins and sugars interfere with the flavour perception.
Innovation through a greater understanding of taste perception will be key to increasing market share for both flavour supplier, competing in the €4.41 billion global flavours market, and end user, the food firms.
And market analysts Freedonia predict that growth will be hooked to the more expensive natural ingredients, complex flavours and a strong growth in low fat and low carbohydrate foods and beverages.
For the next step Burger wants to extend the model, currently suited to liquids and liquid beverages to other products such as bread, crisps, and chewing gum.
Quest has submitted a patent for the artificial throat, expected to be cleared next month.