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Training your tastebuds

Briony Liebich, Sensory Technologist, SARDI Food Innovation and Value Chain Program

Briony Liebich, Sensory Technologist, SARDI Food Innovation and Value Chain Program

Briony Liebich, Sensory Technologist, SARDI Food Innovation and Value Chain Program

Above: Sensory technologist Biony Liebich for the SARDI Food Innovation and Value Chain program, taste testing various food items.  Photos taken by Dean Martin, the Advertiser. 

EIGHT BLACK glasses are lined up for a blind tasting. The idea is to guess the ingredients, some powdery and pleasant, some liquid and less agreeable, one which smells really bad.

Could you, at a whiff, pick a mixture of herbs, a sauce mixed with alcohol, or a spice hiding amid a dozen ingredients?

You can certainly learn. Taste is a sense that can be developed, says Briony Liebich, a sensory technologist for the SARDI Food Innovation and Value Chain program. And Briony is about to start teaching us all some good taste.

She has set up this day's blind tasting as a tantalising prelude to a sensory panel session, a jolt for the senses of a group of food and wine tasters who meet regularly at the Waite Campus at Urrbrae.

They are among a number of tasting groups formed by Briony. At this sitting, most of her apprentice panel correctly identify the black-glass contents, then move on to evaluate a range of seafood dips. The day before, a group sipped through a more complex exercise.

"Sometimes we don't want professionals who know too much," she says.

"Often we need a more general analysis of products to provide producers with a guide to how it is perceived and how it might compete in the market." The panel can pick out herbs, smokiness, balances of sweet, sour, salty, bitter or, the fifth basic taste, umami (often described as savouriness). They also find time to take a look at texture and appearance.

The findings can help producers improve items, but also work as a marketing tool, so the product, price, packaging and advertising can be aimed at the right would-be buyers.

The panel "work" is not a job for fussy eaters, but Briony says anyone interested can develop this sense to help them appreciate more foods, improve their cooking skills and "create a bank of wonderful sensory memories". She says tasting abilities vary, but hopes the workshops will help people "make the most of their strengths". Her first course (class limit 15), will cover how we taste; describing smells; comparing flavour and texture; food and wine examples; and testing detection of basic tastes. Briony is looking for feedback.

"There is a huge interest in food, but do people really want to be able to dissect what they eat?" she asks.

That's another sensory subject for Briony to analyse.

BRIONY'S TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR TASTING ABILITY

  • Pay attention. Notice how your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin sense an overall perception of taste.
  • Practise smelling foods in isolation by taking small, quick sniffs.
  • Resist preconceived ideas. Close your eyes while sampling or ask someone to serve you.
  • Give your senses a break when tasting more than a few samples.
  • Taste a lot! Be open to trying new flavours.
  • When chewing or sipping, draw a small amount of air into your mouth to increase the rate at which the aromas enter your sensory system. This is effective for tasting olive oil and wine.
  • Move the sample around your mouth to warm it, dissolve it and release more flavours.

Story taken from the Advertiser on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.  Story by Dianne Mattsson; Photos by Dean Martin.

Further information on sensory workshops are available on the SARDI website.