Leading cheese food scientist Dr. MaryAnne Drake and colleagues at North Carolina State University in the US have discovered some of the chemical compounds that contribute to nutty flavour in cheddar cheese, adding to the growing body of knowledge as to how and why consumers perceive flavours in cheese.
"We carried out the analysis on 15 cheeses aged between 3 and 5 years old with high intensity nutty flavours, and after a year and a half of study we identified a compound consistently present in nutty cheeses - the Strecker aldehydes 2-methylpropanal, 2-methylbutanal and 3-methylbutanal," Dr. Drake told FoodNavigator.com.
Further, the study team discovered that adding Strecker aldehydes to older cheddar cheese models aged for nine months or more increased the nutty flavor perception, an effect not as dominant when the compounds were added to young (less than 8 months old) cheddar cheese.
Their findings open up new opportunities for dairy manufacturers requested by customers to come up with the desirable, aged, nutty flavour, without going through the actual ageing process and possibly more cost efficient.
"Our findings suggest that there is a symphony of volatile compounds in slightly older cheddar cheeses that is necessary to provide the background for the perception of the nutty flavours," said Dr. Drake."Nutty flavor is a very elusive flavor that is difficult to pinpoint but it only occurs in extremely aged cheddar cheeses," she added.
For the study a panel of specially trained tasters used a cheese flavour wheel - a cheese lexicon - developed by Drake and her colleagues six years ago to distinguish the differences between the different flavours identified in cheddar cheeses. And importantly, to formulate a common language for identifying the flavours.
Drake's previous work on the cheese wheel - which includes flavours like waxy/crayon, bell pepper and fruity, among many others - characterised nutty flavour as "nut-like aromatic associated with different nuts." Lightly toasted unsalted nuts, unsalted wheat thins and roasted peanut oil extract were used as guides for nutty flavour.
Dr. Drake commented: "Some years ago we developed the lexicon in order to have specific definitions for flavours perceived in cheeses. We can now use this sensory language to dig further into flavours and to understand consumer desires."
Now the nutty flavour has been identified, the food scientists are keen to build up a wider picture of how they evolve. Certain amino acids must be present in order for the production of Strecker aldehydes and resulting nutty flavor in cheddar cheese. Drake says that there may be three methods to accelerate nutty flavour: the use of starter cultures capable of releasing the required amino acids; addition of the required amino acids into cheese milk or slurry; and accelerating the conversion rate of the required amino acids into aroma compounds.
"A colleague of mine at a different university has identified a non-GMO starter culture that can accelerate the nutty flavour. Cheese trials are currently underway to understand the development of the flavour kick-started by this starter culture and we are expecting results in about a year's time," explained Dr. Drake.
Full findings for the nutty flavour study are published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.