A scientist at the Summerland Research and Development Centre has spent four years developing instruments to predict the texture of apples in a way that will tickle human taste buds.
Masoumeh Bejaei is using her expertise as a sensory evaluation and consumer research scientist to predict the texture of fruits and what’s desired by the consumer.
Each stage of the project has helped refine the instruments to better match what trained panellists examine in their tastings.
“We have panellists coming here and tasting our samples from different apple varieties. Then we tested the same samples with different instruments and developed models matching the human side and the instrument side with each other and were able to pair the majority of the variation in the texture attributes,” Bejaei said.
Bejaei’s team was able to classify apple varieties into four texture groups – soft flesh with tough skin; soft flesh with thin to moderate skin toughness; moderate flesh hardness and skin toughness; and hard flesh with moderate skin toughness.
“Right now, we are working on the juiciness and texture together,” she added.
Scientists will generally use the method where panellists are placed in individual booths and receive unmarked samples to assess the fruit’s characteristics.
But through the high volume of sensory evaluations needed on a daily basis, this method can become both time-consuming and expensive.
“If this [technology] can help us to be more efficient, and not just us, but any program, in the industry side, to be more efficient in evaluating the quality of the product, that translates to different stages of the production storage and transportation. So this has the benefit of improving the process and reducing costs. And also, it will reduce the number of tastings that we need to do over time.”
By using the models that are being developed, instruments can reach 85 per cent to 90 per cent of tasting accuracy.
“We are not replacing any human perception evaluation by this, we are just trying to improve the daily repeated measurements, efficiency and bring down the cost for those,”Bejaei said.
One of the areas that is hard to be replaced by instruments is flavour evaluation, but some of the decisions on what apples could be made popular are only based on the texture.
“And that’s when these models can be helpful.”
Bejaei said this comes as a benefit to orchardists, where they can look at the results from the varieties studied and determine what that could mean to their desired consumer.
“So they can benefit from using it by understanding what will be the perception of consumers using that fruit at this specific stage? Is it too soft for them? Is it too hard for them? Or is it good? Should it be moved on to the fresh market or can be stored for longer or shorter?” she added.
“Our scientists are hard at work to improve the efficiency and help the industry and at the same time to advance science. That’s what we are doing here.”
After their work has concluded in testing and evaluating the perception of consumers of the quality of products, it will move on to consumer research.
“We don’t test just by the panellists from our centre, we take it to consumers, and ask their opinion about the products. At this stage, they are the ones who make a decision. They are the ones who tell us whether it’s wanted product or not.”
This could also lead to helping with the creation of future apple varieties, providing orchardists with the key to filling a gap in the market.
“People see that we love what we do and we are trying to help and we have a good project with great results to share.”