The science behind tasting

1 July 2019

Since young, we have been taught that the tongue is the only organ responsible for tasting food. But what a majority did not know was that we also need the nose to fully appreciate the flavour. Try pinching your nose when you eat, can you still make out what you are eating?

In a sensory evaluation and refractometer workshop on 27th May 2019, Dr Choo Wee Sim demonstrated to 31 Form 5 students from Pusat Bimbingan CS that it is impossible to do so.

The olfactory system is used for smelling and if it gets blocked, the air cannot bring the odorants of the food to the back of your nose. And as a result, the food may taste bland. Imagine not being able to taste or smell your whole life. It can be emotionally depressing and particularly dangerous too. Just think a transparent glass of liquid being placed in front of you. Can you tell whether it is water or acid?

To be fair, ALL our senses are important not just your smell and taste. If you have noticed, babies play with their food before they eat. They would first feel it in their hands, then smell it before putting it in the mouth to taste. It is a normal behaviour for babies because it is their way of survival. They play with food to test whether it is safe to eat.

Even as adults, we still do that. Not just in eating, we also do it when we are choosing the products. “It is called sensory evaluation, and the information collected from the people’s reactions is particularly useful in food science’s product development and quality control,” says Dr Choo.

Now that we have learnt about our five senses being our inborn measuring instrument, let us take a look at the ones that we have at the lab. One of the most commonly used instruments in food science is the refractometer. It is a tool that measures solid concentrations of aqueous solutions.

To let the students have a good grip of the tool, Dr Choo let the students measure sugar content with a refractometer. This is good practice for students who wish to work in food science. Although the tool seems straightforward, without proper knowledge or training there is a chance that the students will read the measurement wrongly.

Through this workshop, Dr Choo wishes that students can realise how important a food scientist’s job is. While on the outside, they may seem like they are just producing a product but in reality, their job is more than that. They have to analyzse the nutritional content of food, discover new food sources, and research ways to make processed foods safe and healthy.

So now, whenever someone says a food scientist’s work is cooking, tell them that they are the reason the population has healthy and nutritious food stocked up in supermarkets.