Food science students research consumers’ favorite flavors

By University Communications
December 20, 2017
Students Aaron Larson and Catherine Edwards prepare ice cream samples in a Heritage Hall lab at UW-Stout for the Basic Sensory Analysis class. Students conducted taste tests on campus of various products this fall and presented their research results Dec.

Photo: Students Aaron Larson and Catherine Edwards prepare ice cream
samples in a Heritage Hall lab at UW-Stout for the Basic Sensory
Analysis class.


Bring on the real dairy and the full-fat pumpkin bread, but store-brand potato chips may well meet those snack food cravings.

That was the determination of University of Wisconsin-Stout students in the Basic Sensory Analysis class this fall who conducted industry-standard taste tests at a lab in Heritage Hall.

Seventeen junior and senior students majoring in food science and technology conducted taste tests on potato chips, salsa, vegan ice creams and pumpkin bread as part of the class this fall taught by Cynthia Rohrer, Ph.D., an associate professor in the food and nutrition department.

“These are the challenges they will encounter in the food industry,” Rohrer said Monday, Dec. 11, when students presented their final taste test findings at Heritage Hall with research posters. “It helps the food industry decide what consumers want.”

Volunteer taste-testers — often students, faculty and staff — are given samples in one of seven cubicles. Samples are served through a breadbox hatch door. After tasting, volunteers fill out a questionnaire on a computer. Usually about 50 to 100 taste-testers are sought for each study, Rohrer said.

Students in the Basic Sensory Analysis class presented research posters of consumer taste tests Dec. 11 in Heritage Hall.Students design the taste tests, determining what products to compare, coding and scoring the test results, determining the type of palate cleanser to provide between samples and choosing the color of lighting to use. Lighting can impact people’s perceptions of how something tastes, Rohrer said.

Catherine Edwards, a senior majoring in food science and technology from Kenosha, worked on the taste-testing of vegan ice cream. Vegan ice cream would help those who are lactose intolerant and others who are vegetarians or vegans, Edwards said.

In the taste test, volunteers were given regular dairy ice cream and other products made from soy, cashew and rice milk. “Obviously everyone loves dairy ice cream,” Edwards said.

The second favorite choice was cashew, followed by soy and then rice. “The best option is to go for cashew milk if you are looking for a quality, nondairy option,” Edwards said.

Aaron Larson, a senior food science major, said he was surprised how poorly cashew products did compared to real dairy. “It actually has pretty good flavor and good texture as opposed to soy and rice milk,” said Larson, who is originally from Cincinnati.

One of the issues with the taste test is that volunteers may have been expecting all dairy ice creams and not vegan products, Larson said.

Kylie White, a food and nutritional sciences graduate student from Excelsior, Minn., was part of the group that had volunteers taste-test pumpkin bread with full vegetable oil and two other loaves, which substituted Greek yogurt and unsweetened applesauce for much of the oil.

“The yogurt product kind of had a rubbery texture, and people did not like it,” White said, noting the bread using all oil was the most popular.

Applesauce did not create a texture change and seemed more palatable to testers, she said.

“I really liked that one,” White said. “I thought you could taste the cinnamon more but not the pumpkin as well. Applesauce is a feasible fat replacer. Greek yogurt — there would have to be modifications to make up for the texture.”

White said more tests could look at other quick breads and the impact of swapping oil for Greek yogurt and applesauce.

Paige Elfering, a junior majoring in food science from Forest Lake, Minn., worked on the taste-test of potato chips. The Aldi store brand Clancy’s held up in the tests against Lay’s potato chips, a more commercial brand, results showed. The Walmart brand Great Value also scored fairly well.

“Generic brands can do just as well as nationally known brands,” Elfering said, noting crispiness and appearance were important to the testers.

For more information on the academic programs, go to the food science and technology website and the Master of Science food and nutritional sciences site.

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Photos

Bottom Photo: Students in the Basic Sensory Analysis class presented research posters of consumer taste tests Dec. 11 in Heritage Hall.