Commissioned by the Almond Board of California, the Almond Sensory Lexicon provides definitions for the appearance, aroma, flavor and texture of twenty different varieties of the tree nut.
Although the sensory characteristics of peanuts are well document, this tool claims to be the first to comprehensively document those of almonds, and aims to provide a new benchmark to ingredient knowledge and product formulation.
And in California alone, more than 30 different varieties of almonds are produced, with each variety having unique flavor, texture and shape characteristics.
Food technologists will be able to use the database to understand the differences and significance of each characteristic, while almond researchers, producers and retailers will be able to use it to better communicate the quality grading of almonds, said the Almond Board of California at last month's Prepared Foods R&D Conference in Itasca, Illinois.
In order to develop its new lexicon, the board teamed up with Sensory Spectrum, a management consulting firm that specializes in understanding the sensory experience in a number of industries.
Sensory Spectrum staff evaluated 36 samples of raw almonds representing 20 different almond varieties drawn from sources across California. They subsequently also evaluated roasted almonds and pasteurized almonds.
In its current form, the lexicon contains 86 attributes and definitions. These comprise of 15 appearance terms; 9 aroma terms; 36 flavor aromatics, 3 basic taste and 4 chemical feeling factor terms; and 19 textual terms and definitions. As new attributes are discovered or understood, these will also be added to the lexicon, said the board.
Appearance characteristics examined include color intensity, visual roughness and properties of the nut's skin. Aroma tests were conducted for characteristics such as total aroma impact, and specific types of aroma present. Flavor testing examined the different possible flavor profiles and nuances in different nut varieties, while texture testing examined the initial surface properties of the nuts, as well as first chew, chewdown and residual properties.
The Sensory Lexicon was initially unveiled at the IFT annual meeting in Orlando this summer, but was also presented to food formulators in September at Prepared Foods by the Almond Board's senior technical manager Guangwei Huang.
According to Huang, past research has shown that almonds have a "healthy halo" with consumers. Some 82 percent believe that a product containing almonds is "better nutritionally" and 76 percent said it is "more interesting". In addition, 76 percent of consumers are said to believe almonds are high in protein, while 73 percent consider them to be heart healthy.
Indeed, in a new study published last month, almonds, in common with fruit and vegetables, were found to contain high levels of antioxidants.
Demand for almonds has increased in recent years as the tastes of various almond-eating ethnic communities have expanded into more mainstream foods. And the almond boards have provoked greater consumption of the nut through better and more frequent marketing.
There is also growing demand from countries to which the US exports 75 percent on its almonds, namely Europe - in particular Germany and Spain - and India, which buys nuts in their shells for direct consumption and shelling.
The US Department of Agriculture's agricultural exports forecast published last year revealed a total increase of $1.5 billion from the revised 2005 estimate. Rising $600 million, almonds account for nearly half the increase.