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Testing the taste


A state-of-the-art sensory testing facility that will be used to improve the quality, taste and texture of food for consumers has been launched at Newcastle University.

Building on the University’s world leading expertise in food and human nutrition, the £700,000 NU-Food facility will provide opportunities to work with the food industry to develop new and improved foods.

Launched by former Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advisor Lord Curry of Kirkharle, the unit also includes a demonstration teaching kitchen and an assessment suite for nutrition and health trials.

Director of NU-Food Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University, explains: “NU-Food provides the perfect setting to support and validate new product development in the food industry.

“A facility of this size is unique in the region and gives us a greater opportunity to share our research and expertise with the industry and further boost the region’s competitiveness in this field.

“It also enhances the experience for our students – linking them directly with potential future employers and giving them real-life experience while they are studying at Newcastle University.

“We are extremely proud of the new facility and are confident that NU-Food will be a major asset to the University and the region.”

Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture Food & Rural Development (AFRD) has been at the forefront of food production for over a century.

Since the launch of the Agricultural Society in the early 1900s, the school has supported a large and growing number of farmer members by disseminating new knowledge developed and tested on its two farms at Cockle Park and Nafferton and in the university’s research laboratories.

At the same time, the research teams have developed close links with industry, testing the validity of health claims, the nutritional value of foods and assisting in food marketing and sustainable supply chain management.

Lord Curry, chair of NFU Mutual is also a member of the NE Economic Review team, charged with identifying opportunities and barriers to boosting employment and productivity in the region.

First research at NU-Food

Room versus Refrigerator:  Volunteers are taking part in a blind taste test to see if tomatoes taste better stored in the fridge or at room temperature.

Newcastle University is leading a research project to determine the best way to store tomatoes – from plough to plate.

Carrying out the blind taste test sponsored by a leading supermarket, PhD student Rosie Dew is asking volunteers if they can tell the difference between tomatoes stored in different ways.

“Tomatoes are typically refrigerated from the moment they are picked off the plant in order to extend their shelf life but there is a trade-off and that’s a loss of that ‘just-picked’ flavour which diminishes over time,” explains Rosie.

“We are trying to find the perfect balance between the two; can we, for example, limit the refrigeration to maximise on flavour but not compromise on shelf life, basically ensuring the best tomato for the customer.”

The tomato trial is one of the first research projects to be carried out in the new £700,000 NU-Food facility – the first of its kind in the region.

Volunteers are shown to one of the 10 new taste-testing booths and asked to compare tomatoes kept in a variety of conditions. The research will look at how producers and suppliers can optimise the tomato supply chain for quality and energy expenditure.

“There are generally three stages,” explains Rosie.  “Initial storage and transportation, how the food is stored in the supermarket, and how the consumer keeps the tomatoes after purchase.

“By mixing these up we hope to find the best combination – for example, is it better to store tomatoes at room temperature when they are first picked, but refrigerate them during transportation?”

More information about the work going on in NU-Food and the opportunities to get involved can be obtained at:

published on: 6 June 2013