Cindy Beeren, manager of the sensory and consumer science team at Leatherhead, this month began looking into how consumers perceive the taste of still citrus drinks over time.
The research project is only one month in but Beeren says the results, some of which will be released next summer, will help explain which product changes are acceptable to consumers. This will in turn help manufacturers improve shelf life.
“Citrus is one of the most popular flavours for beverages but there are certain problems associated with it,” she said. “Citrus drinks are generally quite acidic, for example.”
Citrus flavours only last for six months, while some others, such as strawberry, last for up to a year, she added.
Working with Dr Guillermo Hough at the University of Argentina, Beeren is examining different versions of juice-based citrus drinks, with varying levels of citric acid and sugar, using scientific analysis, consumer groups and an expert panel.
The expert panel consists of 16 assessors who carry out tests such as triangle testing to measure whether two samples are different or similar, and time intensity studies, to see how specific attributes change over time.
“The trained panel is looking at whether drink is acceptable by examining aspects such as perceived colour, sour taste and mouth feel,” said Beeren. “They score intensity and are looking for an increase in off notes, such as soapy flavours in a citrus drink.”
The scientific techniques used include gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and HunterColorQuest XE. Beeren says in January she will undertake an accelerated shelf life test by looking at the beverages in high heat conditions of 30°C.
Citrus drinks generally contain water, acids, such as amino acids, sugar, and sometimes preservatives such as sodium benzoate. The flavour is a perennial favourite, ranked at number one worldwide, according to Mintel’s Global New Product Database.