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The science of sensory evaluation

Mouth-watering anticipation of holiday food is part of the science of sensory evaluation. (Photo: Pixabay.com)
Holidays fan the flames of our love affair with food. As soon as summer melts into fall, our thoughts leap ahead with mouth-watering anticipation to family gatherings around a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast with all the trimmings. Months before the turkey is carved, you can almost smell it roasting in the oven. You can almost taste the salty goodness of stuffing and gravy. You can almost see colorful visions of home-baked treats dancing in your head.

Your sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch sends signals to your brain that the holiday feasting season has arrived. These basic senses are the tools that influence how much you like – or dislike – the foods you eat.

Sensory evaluation also has practical applications in agriculture. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and their colleagues often conduct sensory panels for specific food crop studies. Recently volunteer evaluators filed into the sensory evaluation lab at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to participate in a grape sensory panel. UC researcher Mary Lu Arpaia and USDA researcher David Obenland collected data for a study on the impacts of various storage conditions on grape varieties.

David Obenland of the USDA prepares citrus samples for evaluation.
Evaluators tasted grape samples and recorded their responses to appearance, taste and texture. Samples given to each evaluator were randomly ordered to eliminate bias in the test results. Evaluators were instructed to sip water between tastings to cleanse the palate. Evaluation procedures can vary slightly from product to product. When sensory panels are conducted for avocados, evaluators are instructed to munch on raw carrots before sipping water due to the oil in avocados. The coarse texture of carrots more fully cleanses the palate between avocado tastings. Other sensory panels have been conducted on citrus.

“There's a bit of psychology involved as well. How the product looks can influence your perception of how it tastes. To further eliminate bias, evaluators are intentionally isolated in individual stations so as not to be influenced by their neighbors' reactions,” explained David Obenland.

Grapes are displayed for evaluators to rate fruit appearance.
Sensory evaluation is used by commodity groups like the Table Grape Commission too. Data collected from a grape sensory panel provides important feedback to growers to identify factors that will inform marketing strategies and produce a quality product that consumers are more likely to buy. Evaluators can be recruited from industry groups, in which case they are considered to be “semi-experts,” or from the general public which are classified as “true consumers.”

The sensory evaluation lab at the Kearney Agricultural REC reflects the current philosophy of fruit commodity research that the industry's focus should be on sensory evaluation, from new pest management to horticultural practices to varietal improvements. The lab was completed and dedicated in April 2008 with support from the California Avocado Inspection Committee, Citrus Research Board, Food Machinery Corporation, Peach, Plum and Nectarine Growers of California, Sunkist and Table Grape Commission.

Author: Roberta Barton

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 8:37 AM
Tags: agriculture (14), Kearney (2), lab (1), senses (1), sensory (1), UC (1)

Have a Happy Thanksgiving without unzipping

A typical Thanksgiving meal has more calories than many people need in a whole day. (Photo: Satya Murthy, Flickr)
For many of us, Thanksgiving is truly a feast, and we are preparing our appetites for large servings of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. In fact, the majority of people consume more than 2,000 calories in their Thanksgiving meal, including appetizer, turkey and the trimmings and dessert, reports Diabetes.org. That's more than a sedentary man should eat in a whole day to maintain a healthy weight, according to the USDA's ChooseMyPlate.gov. This year, you can enjoy the holiday without overeating by serving a healthy and balanced meal. 

  • Portion control: Thanksgiving is about choices. Think about which dishes you don't mind skipping, and plan to fill your plate only once. It's easy to get carried away going back for second and third helpings.

  • Fruits: Get your serving of fruit with a fruit-based dessert. Baked apples, poached pears and fresh figs are a few festive options.

  • Grains: Use whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat bread for a stuffing rich in fiber. 

  • Protein: Serve yourself 3 ounces of roasted turkey or a portion the size of your palm. Skip the fat by removing the skin on your turkey before eating it. Go easy on the gravy.

  • Vegetables: Choose vegetable side dishes that include roasted or cooked vegetables, and skip the creamy sauces and added fat. Instead, season vegetables with fresh herbs to add flavor.  

  • Dairy: Try non-fat Greek yogurt as a healthier topping for side dishes than sour cream or butter.

  • Don't forget to be active. After the holiday meal, go for a walk, bike ride or play football with the family. 

Not sure what to do with your leftovers? Reinvent your Thanksgiving feast with these quick and easy one-sentence leftover recipes. 

  • Cranberry smoothies
    Whirl cranberries with frozen low-fat yogurt and orange juice.

  • Crunchy turkey salad
    Toss cubed turkey with celery, apples, and light mayo with shredded spinach.

  • Stuffing frittata
    Mix stuffing with egg and cook thoroughly, pancake-style.

  • Turkey berry wrap
    Wrap sliced turkey, spread with cranberry sauce and shredded greens in a whole wheat tortilla. 


 Recipe source: www.eatright.org

 Author: Melissa Tamargo

Posted on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 11:17 AM
Tags: nutrition (106), Thanksgiving (5)

Apple-tunity: Preserving the fall apple harvest

Fall marks the height of apple season in California. With an abundance of apples available at an affordable price, it is the perfect time to preserve.
With colorful, dried leaves flitting about the streets and winter holidays on the horizon, fall is in full swing. But what does this mean from the perspective of a seasonal preserver? What can be done now that the prime abundance of summer tomatoes is but a fond memory or a dream for next year?

For some, it's time to wind down the season of preserving, but for others, this time of year provides a field of apple-tunity. Yes, the land of ample – I mean apple – opportunity. Here's a few ideas to get anyone started – no canning skills required!

“Home food preservation of apples and other seasonal fruits and vegetables allows families access to a wider variety of healthy foods throughout the year,” says Missy Gable, co-director for the UC Master Food Preserver Program. “In a time where food preservation is becoming increasingly more popular, it is critical for home preservers to follow research-based methods and recommendations to help ensure the preserved foods are safe for consumption.”  

A variety of fruit butters make a perfect holiday gift. Photo: Sue Mosbacher

To keep it simple, let's look to the freezer as a means to store the apple bounty. There are researched and approved recipes for apple butter, apple jelly, baby food, applesauce, and sliced apples. Even amongst something as simple as sliced apples, you can choose to add some variety in the way you pack them, weather it is in syrup, sugar, or as a dry pack. Syrup packs are good for using in uncooked desserts or fruit cocktail. Sugar and dry packs are perfect for pies. Plan ahead and follow the method that makes the most sense for your season of life.


Another method for keeping apples is dehydrating. In fact, it rivals freezing in its simplicity. Think rings, wedges and chips. In preparing the crispy treat, remember to pretreat the slices to prevent browning. It can be as simple as making a solution of 2 cups water with 3000mg ascorbic acid (crushed Vitamin C tablets), and dipping the slices for 3 to 5 minutes. Place the apple slices in a dehydrator for six to 12 hours and voila, apple pieces abound for use as granola mix-ins, oatmeal toppings, or a crunchy snack.

A decorated fruit leather is a fun and healthy snack for young children. Photo: Lillian Smith
In a recent workshop titled “Gifts from the Kitchen,” the UC Master Food Preserver Program of Sacramento County recommended making homemade fruit leather using applesauce. Make your own applesauce, or you can even use store-bought, and convert it into a delicious fruit leather. Smooth the applesauce out to one-eighth-inch thickness over a lined dryer tray or rimmed cookie sheet and dehydrate. Decorate your leather in colors by dyeing with spices such as cinnamon, using red candies or even gelatin. Use cookie cutters to make fruit leather shapes as depicted in the photo. Get creative and have fun; now is the time to let those apples shine!

For more information about apples, download the UC ANR publication Apples: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Detailed recipes and preservation practices alluded to in this article can be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site, the Ball site, and in So Easy to Preserve.

If you'd like to learn more in-depth knowledge about safe home food preservation, check out the UC Master Food Preserver Program. They hold public classes by county as well as extensive training programs for qualified applicants.

Posted on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 8:37 AM

Building a better salad to outsmart climate change

Lettuce in UC Davis greenhouse. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga)
A team of researchers representing diverse fields of study and fortified by a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is setting out to build the salad of the future.

The researchers are located at UC Davis; UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Extension Centers; USDA research facilities in Salinas and Beltsville; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The UC Davis-led team aims to leverage new technologies to sustain the lettuce supply, despite the challenges posed by climate change.

“We will be exploiting genomic technology to address the needs in all areas up and down the lettuce production chain,” said project leader Richard Michelmore, a plant geneticist and director of the UC Davis Genome Center.

The team's five-year renewable grant, announced recently by USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding program, was made available through the 2014 Farm Bill.

Research will range from identifying genes that are key to developing important stress-resistance traits in lettuce to fine-tuning imaging technologies that will allow growers to remotely assess the status of their crops in the field. Although grounded in plant genetics and genomics, the project also will delve into a variety of fields that are vital for ensuring sustainable production of lettuce and related leafy greens. Collaborating team members run the gamut in terms of expertise, including plant genetics and breeding, food technology, and agricultural economics.

One of the project's strengths, Michelmore said, is its longstanding collaborative relationship with large and small plant-breeding companies as well as with the California Leafy Greens Research Board, which represents growers of lettuce, spinach and other related crops.

USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which provided the project's new grant, this year awarded $50 million in grants nationwide for projects ranging from plant genetics research to new product innovation and development of new methods for responding to food safety hazards.

Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 8:41 AM

How will you celebrate World Food Day?

Each year on Oct. 16, the world takes a moment to raise global awareness of agriculture, hunger, and food issues. World Food Day officially marks the anniversary of the creation of the UN's Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945, and nowadays it aligns with other global events such as this week's World Food Prize activities in Iowa.

Food and agriculture are central to what UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) professionals deal with every day. We're elbows-deep in solving specific problems like pest identification, childhood nutrition in schools, drought-tolerant plant breeding and spreading sustainable agricultural practices.

Britta Hansen and Elise Brockett plant okra and other vegetables at the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center, in advance of its grand opening on World Food Day.

World Food Day is a day for all of us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Here are some ways that UC ANR faculty are raising awareness on World Food Day this year. How will you join them?

If you're near UC Davis, two free events invite the public to mark World Food Day:

America's Farm-to-Fork Capital Speakers Series offers participants lunch and an in-depth discussion of the connections between soil health, farm health, healthy foods, and the gut microbiome. These themes are particularly pertinent this World Food Day, as it is also the International Year of Soils. Author Daphne Miller will speak about her book "Farmacology" and then join a panel of academics from UC ANR's Agricultural Experiment Station, specifically Kate Scow and Bruce German, moderated by Tom Tomich. The event will be 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Friday, at the Buehler Alumni Center on the UC Davis campus. Event details and registration

The Grand Opening of the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center will send participants home with a souvenir vegetable seedling and a closer look at some of the technologies and crops that UC academics work with in developing countries. UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist and pomologist Elizabeth Mitcham is also the director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and will be joined by Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), UC Davis CA&ES Dean Helene Dillard, and others to discuss the work that UC Davis and its international partners do to help small-scale farmers in developing countries. This event is particularly pertinent as this year's theme for World Food Day focuses on how agriculture can break the cycle of rural poverty. The event will be at 2 – 3:30 p.m., Friday, on Solano Field, near Nelson Hall on the UC Davis campus. Event details and information about the new demonstration center

Online this week, you can hear UC ANR academics Dan Sumner and Christine Stewart speaking on a panel at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, broadcast online via a live stream. They will be speaking 1:30 p.m. PDT, Wednesday, on a panel with UC Davis' Roger Beachy about the UC Davis World Food Center, “Launching a New Initiative - Food for a Healthy World.”

More information about World Food Day can also be found on the FAO website or by browsing #WFD2015 in social media.

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at 2:07 PM

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