The 101st Annual NAFFS Convention featured a panel of educators from three universities who provided some insight on topics being covered and research being performed regarding food science, flavors, nutrition and culinary arts at colleges around the country. Panel member were:
● Dr. Joanne Curran-Celentano, professor and chair, agriculture, nutrition, and food systems, University of New Hampshire;
● Dr. Keith Cadwallader, professor of food chemistry, department of food science and human nutrition, University of Illinois;
● John Noble Masi, professor, Florida International University
Dr. Curran-Celentano cited carotenoids as an area of research and discussion. When consumed, she said, carotenoids, (which help give fruits and vegetables their color) cross into the blood-brain barrier and are associated with memory improvement. In 2001, Curran-Celentano and her team received a grant from USDA to study kale. Kale had been found to help macular degeneration, the pigment in the back of the eye conferring benefits to health and sight and in the front, to cataracts.
Her research lab did studies on volunteer students who were fed a diet high in kale and spinach, as prepared by some of her students. After four months, the increased amounts of kale and spinach were associated with better cognition and eye health. She said that although many people know the lutein (a carotenoid) found in kale has health benefits, it’s bitter taste had until recently relegated its traditional use to that of a garnish.
Cauliflower is not a new vegetable but is finding new purpose in a health-conscious population. “Alone it can be delicious,” she said, but “with proper flavoring and texturizing it can become highly functional and can become a base for culinary tricks.”
Curran-Celentano said trends that align with health outcomes are popular and going to be successful. Trends she mentioned: low-carb, gluten-free, Mediterranean flavors, reduced sugars, plant-forward and beyond meat. She noted that alone, some of these types of foods need help in order to satisfy the palate of the general population – some are in need of texture and flavors to be accepted.
Curran-Celentano runs a flavor perception lab through the university’s food science department. Her students, she said “have already learned about the physiology of taste. My job is to teach them flavor. And they’re different.” Ecogastronomy (sustainability), she said, is one piece of it. Neurogastronomy – how the brain determines/perceives flavor, is the other piece.
Cadwallader trains graduate and undergraduate students who are going into food science by teaching a flavor chemistry and analysis course which takes the form of a workshop with a lab and presentations to other students.
“It’s what we call sensory-directed flavor analysis,” he said, “to understand the impact on consumers.” Cadwallader discussed new and emerging technical areas, for example, high-protein challenges. His students are required to take an advanced sensory science course to help them in this area.
He said the research he is involved with includes developing new materials to measure flavor components. He said it’s expensive technology, available in the for-profit flavor industry, but school budgets require they take time to do the work without the technology. The key impact of aroma flavor systems are identified and then applied. The flavor, process, storage, packaging and measurement of shelf life are all covered through this research.
Masi teaches culinarians in front- and back-of-the-house hospitality management. He said he teaches about food ingredients, combinations and preparations. He’s done extensive research on trends in the food service industry and shared how the numbers of people dining out is ever-increasing. The types of cuisine they enjoy out of the home, he said, is still predictable; Italian, Asian and Mexican dominate the demand. On the rise, he added, are Mediterranean and Spanish cuisines, with those from South America (Brazil and Peru in particular) as well as Korean food gaining popularity.
Masi spoke of the menu adoption cycle, offering that some menu items are so expected that they have become ubiquitous, such as ice cream, cheesecake, or in Florida, key lime pie. Below that level is proliferation; he cited dessert bars and skillet desserts in that category. Adoption is a level of familiarity with a menu item or some ingredient therein. And inception is the brand-new, trendy combination of food ingredients and flavors that a diner may never have seen on a menu before or tried themselves.
Masi said he tries to use some of each level, substituting a spicy yogurt for mayonnaise in a recipe for flavor and for health-conscious consumers. Cocktails also, he said, use these new trendy tastes to inspire a customer to try something new.
Paige Crist, associate publisher, Perfumer & Flavorist, served as moderator. Questions she asked and select responses from panel members included:
“What resources do you look for for information on trends?”
Masi - Flavor and the Menu, Datassential and Technomic Trends on Flavor.
Cadwallader - Food Technology and Food Processing magazines, both of which are also available digitally.
Curran-Celentano - McCormick’s Flavor Forecaster, Liz Sloan Trends in Functional Foods, which is available in Food Technology. She also enjoys looking back to see what trends were emerging years back and how they did.
“What bigger picture trends are we seeing out there? There are many individual flavors but can they be grouped?”
Curran-Celentano – the “aspirational trend in plant-forward foods.” She said they have merit because of the health outcomes and that her students, in the 18-22-year-old category, are looking forward to more of this. She also mentioned sustainability and ways in which use of food can help protect the planet – including packaging and how delivered.
Cadwallader - functional foods continue to be a trend. He said the taste of functional foods has improved, so there are options with nutritional benefits that are also tasty and have less of a medicinal feel to them.
Masi - the flavor grouping of authentic and international flavors is very popular with millennials and gen Z, since they are more traveled than other generations were at this point in their lives and are used to different types of flavors.
“Are menus in college cafeterias reflecting today’s trends?”
Masi - said he was working with University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which has been rated as a top foodservice offerings installation. The school is focused on sustainability, using local produce to offer vegan and vegetarian and other healthy food options. It also incorporates offer ethnic flavors from all over. “The college dining foodservice component is very different than what it was,” he said.
Curran-Celentano - “40 percent of our foodservice foods (on the UNH campus) is sourced from within 250 miles of our campus,” she said. She said they offer gluten-free stations at every dining hall and even allow students to bring in recipes from home to try to replicate at school. Also, the dining experience is 24 hours, with prepared food ready for the students whenever they choose to eat it. “These students, when they graduate, have to learn how to eat in other settings,” she said, suggesting the students become so used to multiple options while at school that there’s got to be an adjustment period upon graduation. She also pointed out that students who learn how to cook for themselves while at college have been found to live healthier lives 10 years later.
In response to a question from the audience regarding how the professors teach about flavor, Masi said he begins each course with the students sampling, in stations, dried spices, herbs, liquids and a blind tasting to get them thinking. Cadwallader said he does something similar, offering a hands-on demonstration for aroma and taste differences with different compounds. Curran-Celentano said her students enjoy components to make a flavor. She helps them see the elements as they are combined and understand that it is chemistry. “These flavors and components are found in nature, put together in many ways and that most importantly, they should know that ‘flavor is more than taste’ but rather a neuro and psycho physiology. There is so much that goes into flavor and is beyond what goes onto your tastebuds,” she said.