Rutger Brouwer, PhD Candidate, Food Quality and Design, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
In 2013, I moved from Ellecom, a small town in the Netherlands, to Wageningen to study Nutrition and Health. This seemingly small change shaped both my life and career path. Prior to studying food science, I consumed the typical Dutch diet. We (the Dutch) have never been famous for having a world-famous cuisine. Speaking about my diet, I ate quite some microwaveable cheeseburgers during high school (not my proudest food memory). However, as my knowledge and interest in food grew, my behaviour and passion gradually changed. Nowadays, I enjoy cooking, practising cooking techniques, and trying out new recipes. This new passion largely influenced my choice for the Sensory Science MSc specialisation. I followed courses related to eating behaviour and consumer science, but the instrumental sensory science and flavour-related courses intrigued me the most. This interest led me to my thesis topic (aroma release and perception in composite foods) and my internship (consumer and sensory insights team at Givaudan).
Between 2019 and 2021, I had the opportunity to work at the Dutch Beer Institute and the HungerNdThirst Foundation before I started my PhD in May 2021. This PhD project is part of the larger project Improving the Sensory Quality of Meat Analogues, which is done with a consortium of partners. The primary objective of the project is to enhance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that drive flavour and texture perception and subsequently implement the findings to enhance the sensory quality of meat analogues. Within this project, there are three PhD projects dedicated to unravelling the mechanisms that influence the interplay between product structure and composition, food oral processing, and flavour release and perception. My project focuses on the influence of the structure and physico-chemical properties on the release and perception of flavour in plant-based meat analogues. More specifically, we focus on burger patties, which makes my high school experience with low-quality burgers very relevant.
On a day-to-day basis, the work consists of pilot studies where we test different ingredients and preparation techniques. These tests are necessary to understand how to control the structural elements (e.g., hardness, juiciness, or crumbliness) and the flavour profile of the meat analogues. We focus on small, controllable changes without changing the whole profile. This is quite a challenging task for the plant-based meat analogues. Most meat analogues consist of a wide array of ingredients that interact with each other and contribute to the product’s structure and physicochemical properties. So, changing one element can easily lead to multiple uncontrolled changes. We quantify some of the changes in profile by instrumental measurements (e.g., Texture Analysis) or some small tasting sessions before a sensory study is conducted.
After the initial pilot studies, we create a sample set to answer a specific research question. Descriptive sensory tests (e.g., Rate-All-That-Apply) describe the sensory profile of the samples. We use dynamic sensory methods (e.g., Temporal-Check-All-That-Apply and Time Intensity) to understand the effect of oral structural breakdown on flavour and texture perception over time. These dynamic sensory methods are sometimes combined with dynamic instrumental methods, for example, Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry. With this method, we can quantify the release of flavour over time. Combining all these methods will help us understand the mechanisms that drive the sensory perception of the meat analogues. In the end, this work should lead to the existence of only high-quality burgers.
The project is now halfway done, and soon the different PhD projects will share their results via publications and at different conferences (i.e., Wartburg, Pangborn, and EFFoST). If you are interested in the work that we do, feel free to contact me. Moreover, you can read more about the project on the website of the project.