According to Professor Andy Taylor of the University of Nottingham in the UK, flavour as a subject area is in decline because researchers who were leaders in the field are now at retirement age, and there are not enough new people coming in.
Prof. Taylor is involved in a new scheme that aims to change this – and ultimately lead to new advances in flavour science. The idea of V Krishnakumar, managing director of consultancy Giract, the scheme offers two kinds of awards to researchers at the start of their careers:
The PhD candidate who produces the best PhD thesis on flavours will receive an award of €5000; and six bursaries of €3000 each are available to first-year PhD students whose PhD proposals are deemed most deserving, for expenses related to their research, be it attending a conference or purchasing materials or equipment.
V. Krishnakumar has obtained sponsorship from nine companies with business activities in or relating to flavours: DSM Food Specialities, Frutarom, Givaudan, IFF, Kerry Ingredients, Kikkoman, Lesaffre International, Nestle and Unilever.
However the companies are not involved in selecting the proposals for which bursaries will be awarded; that decision is down to Prof Taylor. Keeping the programme independent is seen as important as every company will have its own spin on what constitutes interesting and timely research.
Not just for pleasure
Prof. Taylor told FoodNavigator.com that he will consult with other academic colleagues while judging the proposals if necessary, but a set of criteria has been drawn up.
“They will be scored on a rigorous scale,” he said.
Projects must be innovative and multi-disciplinary, combining flavour analysis with aspects of biology and psychology. They must also adhere to good experimental design and theoretical principles.
However they could be almost anywhere in the flavours field. “Flavour is not just about pleasure. Understanding that is a big thing,” he said.
For instance, there are some interesting avenues to explore in its potential functional role, such as flavours’ effects on the absorption of food, or the idea of flavours being used to tackle obesity by bringing satiety.
Time for change
The involvement of so many food and flavour companies in this scheme indicates awareness of the industry-wide need. It also sends an important signal to universities and institutes and could be “a lever to make things happen”.
“If companies are saying ‘we need people’, universities will be prepared to set up courses.”
The intention is to make the programme an annual event, and if it proves successful in Europe to expand it into the US and Asia, where there is the same dearth of young talent.
Patrick Taillade of Lessaffre International, told FoodNavigator.com that his company is sponsoring the initiative because it has a direct relevance to its area of activity: Its subsidiary Safisis produces natural aroma chemicals and another, Biospringer, yeast extracts which could be used in the production of natural flavours by fermentation.
He agreed that advancing knowledge on flavours is important for the development of the market as a whole.
Peter Deeg, senior manager at Kikkoman, pointed out that there is a sea-change the flavour industry, which has been concentrating on cheap flavours, but there is a growing need for consumers to understand what is in their food.
“The flavour industry cannot produce flavours consumers do not understand in the future,” he said.
More information on the flavour research programme is available from www.giract.com/flavor-research-programme
Enquiries and submissions should be directed to andy.taylor ‘at’ nottingham.ac.uk or info ‘at’ giract.com.
The deadline for submissions is 30 October.