Sensory Science Research Centre
The chemical senses, i.e., taste, smell, and sensory irritation, are often considered to be the gatekeepers of the body, whose function is to detect what would be bad for the body and that should be rejected, and to identify what the body needs for survival and that therefore should be consumed. Appearance is the primary cue of expectation, and texture has practical concerns for palatability, and preferences, and both also play a role in flavour perception.
The sensory sciences are central to fundamental studies of product choice and acceptability. The research and teaching model applied by the Sensory Science Research Centre puts emphasis on determining relationships between consumer's response to stimulation in true to life contexts, objective measures of products sensory attributes, and product stimuli provided by composition and structure. Using this integrated approach to the study of product quality we can better achieve an understanding of consumer behaviour with respect to products.
- Undertake fundamental and applied research on sensory perceptions and preferences, and disseminate this knowledge to a wide audience.
- Provide high quality undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in sensory science within the University of Otago.
- Foster interest in, and support for, sensory science throughout New Zealand.
- Undertake consultancy in sensory science, particularly in relation to consumer products.
Established in 1996 with funds from the University of Otago, the Centre is located on the main campus of the University. Facilities include booths for analytical trained panels and consumer science evaluations, and laboratories for teaching and research. The Centre now also uses Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) to measure in real-time volatile compounds that are important in aroma quality.
The Centre focuses primarily on longer term research that can be generically applied to a wide range of contexts and consumer products. This research takes a number of forms:
- Research programs funded by the University of Otago and external grants.
- Collaborative research with groups within the University of Otago, and other parts of New Zealand.
- International collaborative research.
- Research directly funded by industry that addresses a specific problem. Long term projects can be undertaken by post-graduate students within the Centre.
Current research projects:
The Sensory Science Research Centre is home to a range of staff including PhD students, visiting researchers from academia and industry, and visiting students. The following is a list of projects that are currently being carried out at this Centre.
- Sensory and instrumental characterisation of consumers' perceptions of fresh baked flavour.
- Effect of location, diet, and season on the physical properties and sensory quality of sea urchin ( Evechinus chloroticus) gonads.
- Studies to improve consumer acceptance and preference testing methodologies.
Development of a GC-O finger span cross modality (FSCM) methodology using a trained panel for the evaluation of sea urchin roe from different locations.
The Centre, through the Department of Food Science, provides New Zealand's most comprehensive program in sensory science. This includes:
- 200, 300 and 400 level undergraduate courses in sensory science, offering complete theoretical and practical training for sensory scientists to meet industry needs
- Post-graduate supervision in sensory science for Master's and Doctorate level research degrees for graduates in food science and other relevant disciplines (e.g. nutrition, psychology)
- Sensory science short courses and combined sensory / flavour science courses in industry and postgraduate students.
The Sensory Science Research Centre facility is fitted with the latest computerised data collecting software, which has been provided under license by Compusense Inc. The Centre uses a panel of professional sensory assessors, all recruited from the local community, who have been trained to evaluate the taste qualities of a wide range of products. Sensory evaluation is an essential tool for optimising consumer acceptance of food products. It is also vital in gaining understanding of how we perceive flavour, taste and texture in food. The Centre provides consultancy services to food and consumer products industries in all aspects of sensory science including:
- Trained panels to assess product quality and determine the impact of product variables.
- Consumer studies to assess acceptability and preference for products.
The centre is closely allied to the Department of Food Science's programmes of research, teaching and consultancy in flavour science. These programmes include:
- Undergraduate, postgraduate and short courses in flavour science
- Research and consultancy using “state of the art” GC-olfactometry, GC x GC, and GC-MS, for the identification and analysis of flavours