Not long ago, about 200 consumer panelists went to the University of Florida Sensory Testing Lab to taste a new blueberry developed by UF/IFAS scientists. Turns out, they liked the flavor of the ‘Sentinel’ blueberry, said its breeder, Patricio Muñoz.
The Sensory Testing Lab sits rather inconspicuously in the middle of campus. Few people come or go. But inside, volunteers test some of the future foods you’ll eat. These flavor panelists act like focus groups in the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department Sensory Testing Lab, or Building 120, as it’s also known.
The ‘Sentinel’ blueberry is the latest in a longstanding tradition of top-notch fruit to emerge from the research of UF/IFAS scientists like Muñoz, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences.
Many scientists bring their fruit and vegetable varieties to the lab, said Charles Sims, a UF/IFAS professor of food science and human nutrition. Food companies, faculty and graduate students use the lab to conduct research on the aroma, texture and flavor of foods, said Sims, who runs the lab.
“One of our main collaborations is with the plant breeders in horticultural sciences and across UF/IFAS,” Sims said. “We provide sensory testing on a range of fruits and vegetables to help identify what varieties consumers like the best and some of the sensory characteristics of these varieties. This assists plant breeders with developing varieties with better flavor and consumer appeal.”
For years, the flavor panelists have helped UF/IFAS researchers by telling which types of produce please their palates. Using the genetic data that produced those sensory attributes, UF/IFAS breeders develop more appealing citrus, corn, blueberries and strawberries, among other food in the produce section of your grocery store.
“This includes the research projects that I do on senses, collaborations with many other researchers across UF/IFAS and the rest of UF and collaborations with the food industry,” he said. “This laboratory is essential for the research that I do and provides the facilities and staff to assist other IFAS/UF researchers and the food industry.”