Category Archives: Aroma

The final word on beer serving temperature.

Sounds a bit arrogant, eh? Well, follow along and we’ll see if you disagree.

It seems like every week I run across some sort of discussion about what temperature to drink your beer at. These conversations usually involve some people (who are often fairly well educated in the various topics of beer) enlightening the beer n00bs of the best way to serve, pour, and drink various beers. This “best way” is most often dependent on the style of beer in question, with lagers being served colder than ales and other ideas like that. Well, I’m here to tell you that is a bunch of bollocks.

Now, don’t get me wrong: everyone who drinks or eats anything should know that volatile flavor compounds are more readily released and detected when the sample is warmer. The same with agitation: when you stir, swirl, swish, or chew your sample (be it solid or liquid) you’re allowing more volatiles to be released. Also, controlling serving temperature has great importance when conducting sensory experiments, not only for ensuring that all samples are treated in the same way, but also to maximize (or whatever the goal is) the chance of picking up certain flavors. These are all fundamental ideas in flavor science.

But beyond these considerations, my point is that once you are armed with that knowledge you should be free to enjoy your food or beverage in whatever way you like most. There are a number of instances where a beer will taste better when it is colder than it does after it warms, regardless of the style. I’ve experienced this many times, particularly when drinking beers from small microbreweries who may not have the control of quality parameters that larger breweries have. Some beers will be wonderful and defect free when drank below 40F, but after the beer warms in your glass some of the ugly defects that you didn’t notice earlier start to come out. Diacetyl is usually the culprit here, but it can be other flavors as well. Plenty of times I’ve opened a can of Heineken and poured it into a frosty glass and enjoyed the first half, but by the time I near the end of the glass oxidation flavors are starting to make themselves apparent and the beer becomes far less tasty. In these cases you almost NEED to drink the beer cold, regardless of whether it is an ale or a lager, just to enjoy it. Another reason I enjoy my beer colder is that it’s more drinkable and refreshing, and yes, I often like my ales drinkable and refreshing. Sometimes when flavors hide behind the coldness it can make the beer easier to drink. For example, beers that have higher alcohol and a lot of solvent-like flavors can be tamed when drank colder, while they can sometimes get more aggressive and unpleasant as they warm.

What might bother me the most about this serving temperature topic is when a pub will assume that this is the best temperature at which to serve their beer. Sure, it may be better for delineating the subtleties of the beer flavor, but what are those extra 10 degrees doing to the stability of the beer? It’s allowing the beer to oxidize and age that much faster, so while you may be trying to appreciate the beer now you are also making a poorer quality beer for the next pint.

What it boils down to is this: don’t tell me how to enjoy my beer. I know how and when to use serving temperature to achieve different goals, but when I am drinking beer because I just want to drink a beer, I will serve it at the temperature that I want it at, not what you think it should be. And I encourage you all to have the same mind set: if you like your IPA at 35F, that is your call and I won’t ever have a problem with it. I just hope you’re not under the impression that all the flavor you taste is all the flavor there is in that beer.

Hop Candies: woah.

If you are a fellow hop appreciator, then you may be interested in these.   A reader of this blog contacted me with some questions a little while back, and also offered some of his unique products to me to try:  hop candies.  These are Jolly Rancher-like candies made from the aromatic oils of a single hop variety, and they are very interesting.

Despite tasting like you’re chewing on a fresh hop cone, these candies are not really bitter at all (there may be a hint of bitterness if you stretch your imagination), but the aroma is very authentic.  Lots of myrcene and caryophyllene, the types of flavors that you’d pick up from a dry-hopped beer (and that are lost when you hop in the kettle).  He sent me a sampling of 3 varieties (Cascade, Fuggle, and East Kent Goldings) and while they are all similar they do have their distinctions.  For one, the Fuggle seems slightly more bitter than the Cascades, but it is a minor difference.  The bitterness comes across more like a slight tickle from time to time, so it’s not that disagreeable if you aren’t normally a fan of bitterness.

The main concern that I had, and was shared by the various panelists who tried them, is that they are a little too big.  These candies are about the size of the small Tootsie Rolls but slightly longer, and I think they could be about 1/2 – 2/3 of that size, as they seem to drag on a little too long.  Some of my panelists thought that the aftertaste that lingered for quite some time was unpleasant in the way it stuck around, but personally that was my favorite part.  With the candy in your mouth you had the continuous resinous raw/fresh hop flavor explosions, but after it was gone it became more subtle, with floral and citrus notes. A unique take on breath fresheners…

They are available from a number of online sources, listed below.  Check them out!  They’re probably unlike any other candy you may have had.

 

Freshops.com
Northernbrewer.com
Morebeer.com
Homebrewing.org
Grape and Grainery

2 more articles on deck, maybe today, maybe some other day soon!

Linalool – Fresh and Floral Hop Aroma

Linalool has a rather prominent, but at times contested, place in hop aroma. Over the past several years, many brewers and research groups have attempted to use it as a marker in the assessment of the qualities and quantities of hop aromas, both in the hop field and in the beer bottle. Other investigators have been hesitant to distill the representation of such a complex phenomenon as hop aroma into a single compound, and have downplayed its usefulness as a chemical marker. Nevertheless, linalool is an influential part of hop aroma in many varieties and, depending on hopping regimes, in finished beers as well. Here, we’ll discuss the importance of this aromatic compound in hops and brewing.

Linalool is a terpene alcohol, and is closely related to myrcene, being its hydration product.  It is found in dozens (if not hundreds) of plants, flowers, and spices, but in freshly dried hop cones it is generally found at levels of about 25-150ppm (mg/kg).  Due to the ability to have two configurations at the #3 carbon, linalool is found as two stereoisomers (S, R), each having different thresholds and aroma qualities:  S-linalool has a sweeter, more floral aroma and an odor threshold of about 7ppb, while R-linalool has a wood, spicy, and lavendar-like character and a much lower threshold at less than 1ppb.   Regardless of the total level of linalool in a hop variety, the ratio of these stereoisomers in fresh hops seems to be fairly consistent:  about 93% of it is in the R form.  Generally, linalool’s threshold in beer is much higher – upwards of 100ppb  (2.2 and 180ppb, for R and S respectively).   The pure linalool that I use in my sensory department (which I have to assume is a mixture of isomers) has a very pleasant sweet, tropical, fresh floral character, but is also not unlike the aroma of Froot Loops® cereal.   To be honest, it’s one of the most pleasant aromas I’ve ever smelled, which is probably why it’s a very popular addition to many fragrant commercial products, from perfumes to laundry detergents.   Apparently, it’s so pleasant smelling that it has been shown to reduce stress levels in laboratory rats and inhibit the activity of genes associated with stress hormones.

Despite having an aroma that is only remotely reminiscent of hops, linalool is widely accepted as one of the few compounds that directly contributes to hop aroma in beer.  Being a volatile flavor-active compound, however, the presence of linalool in beer hinges greatly on a number of factors.  Not surprisingly, the variety of hop plays a crucial role in the amounts of linalool available for the beer, but also the growing conditions and the maturity of the plant at harvest time.  Some research breeders have considered using linalool as a way to gauge the readiness of a crop for harvest.  Apart from variety, growing conditions, and maturity, production processes in the brewery have the biggest impact on linalool levels in the beer.  The sweet and floral aroma characteristics of linalool are quite distinct from the hop aromas generated by the noble hop varieties favored by many European brewers, but this is not necessarily due to the varieties themselves (although they do tend to be lower in levels relative to the newer American aromatic hops).   More influential is how these nobel hops are often used in such beers, and that is often via “kettle hopping”, where noble aroma hops are added near the beginning of the boil.  Despite most of the hop essential oils being lost via steam distillation throughout the boil some hop aromas must remain, as this kettle hop aroma is generally described as spicy, woody, and herbal – terms which are obviously not malt-related.   But these aromas are also dissimilar to that of linalool, which must be lost with the rest of the essential oils.  As one might expect, European kettle hopped beers have very low levels of linalool and “sweet, fresh, and floral” hop aroma terms are not associated with these beers.

So, just like hop aroma in general, in order to get more linalool in the beer, one would need to add hops later in the boil so that not so much is lost via distillation.  “Late hop aroma” is imparted by adding hops at kettle knockout or in the whirlpool.  This is where you really begin to notice the impact of some of the essential hop oils, leading to various aromas like citrus, piney, floral, perfume, etc.   The later the addition (ie, the closer to wort chilling) the more linalool will remain in the wort.  Some research has demonstrated that when adding hops at 10 minutes prior to the end of boil, linalool levels can rise from about 8ppb to 60ppb before tailing off near 30ppb by the end of boil.   By contrast, adding the hops just 2 minutes before the end of boil, linalool levels can rise to 85ppb before stabilizing at about 80ppb.   Even without any indication as to what hop variety was used or other parameters, this is a dramatic demonstration of the importance of timing with regards to hop additions.

As you probably already know, dry hopping is the best way to get the elusive hop aroma into beer in significant amounts.  But, interestingly, research has shown that this doesn’t necessarily apply to linalool.  While some linalool may be imparted by dry hopping, it seems that it is rather negligible compared to late kettle hopping.  In addition, many of the other aromatic compounds contributed to the beer during dry hopping (such as methyl esters and ketones) will likely mask the presence of linalool to the point that it would be difficult to detect.

The final way that linalool is introduced to beer is via glycosides (which I’ve discussed before).  Glycosides are interesting because they can carry aromatic compounds into the beer rather surreptitiously and release them under various circumstances.   A glycoside is essentially a sugar molecule which is bound to another molecule at its #1 carbon position, and in such a configuration they are not flavor-active.  However, during fermentation, yeast enzymes break this bond and release the aromatic molecule.  Some of these glycosides contain linalool as the aromatic compound.  It’s not always enzymes that are needed to cleave these molecules in twain;  sometimes an acidic environment is all that is needed.  In fact, glycosides also play an important role in wine flavor, as wine is quite acidic.   But while most beer not as acidic as wine, acid hydrolyzed glycosidic cleavage reactions still take place in beer.   It’s been shown that if glycosides survive into the finished beer, they can continue to release linalool as the beer ages, and depending on what kind of hop product is used and other production parameters, this source of linalool may actually be more influential to beer flavor than the linalool which comes from the hops directly.  I’d really like to delve a little deeper into glycosides and how they are introduced and modified throughout the brewing process, but besides the little bit of research I’ve found regarding them, all the references I can find now are in German…  and I don’t speak German.  If anyone knows of any papers about glycosides and beer flavor, please let me know.

And, for now, that’s all I have to say about that.  I think the next posts will be about some beer we’ve drank recently.

See you next time!

Sources:

Peacock, V., “The Value of Linalool in Modeling Hop Aroma in Beer”, Master Brewers Association of the Americas Technical Quarterly, 47:4, 2010, p.29-32.

Kaltner, D., Mitter, W., “Changes in Hop Derived Compounds During Beer Production and Aging”, Hop Flavor and Aroma:  Proceedings of the 1st International Brewers Symposium, MBAA 2009, p.37-47.

Teasing out the underlying aromas of complex flavors

One of the most interesting things about flavor science is the fact that certain aromas and flavors are so complex that no single compound can replicate the experience. Even flavors which are represented fairly well by a single compound (like the isoamyl acetate in bananas, or the methylanthranilate in concord grapes) are more of a simulacrum to their natural inspirations, often times having a slight “artificial” quality. While this “marquee” compound may make up the bulk of that particular flavor, there are probably a half-dozen or more other compounds at or below threshold levels which are contributing to the overall impression of the flavor, adding to its complexity and depth. In some cases, these compounds may have aromas in the same category as the main flavor, but sometimes they seem to come out of left-field…

Chocolate, maybe not surprisingly, is one of those flavors that is made up of a strange hodge-podge of flavor compounds which, taken on their own, have no relation or similarity to the flavor of chocolate. Research from the Technical University of Munich is starting to show just how complex chocolate flavors are. They’ve found that there are up to 600 different aromatic compounds in cocoa beans, but you really only need about 25 of them to make a decent chocolate flavor. Twenty-five is still a big number for a single flavor and the ones on that list come from a wide-range of flavor categories, many having no obvious connection to chocolate: potato chips, cooked meat, peaches, raw beef fat, cooked cabbage, human sweat, earth, cucumber, honey… etc etc. Certainly not the types of flavors you contemplate as that decadent Swiss chocolate melts in your mouth, are they?

While not part of the research mentioned in this latest press release (for an ACS meeting), here is a table from a book about ‘chocolate science’ which includes data from the same researcher (Schieberle) which shows a large list of compounds found in the aroma of chocolate (milk chocolate, pg 67; dark chocolate, pg. 69). Since chocolate also undergoes Maillard reactions and is fermented as well (like beer in both regards), a number of these flavors are also found in beer: maltol, phenylacetaldehyde, diacetyl, dimethyl trisulphide (ew!), gamma-nonalactone, butanoic acid, various furans and pyrazines, just to name a few. Fascinating stuff!

How to swirl wine.

It’s not really about beer, but it is about sensory analysis of food products so it will fit in here. And I just can’t pass up the opportunity to share it with you.

I stumbled upon this gem of an article written by a “very knowledgeable” winery tour guide from the Napa valley area. In it, he discusses how the aroma of wine depends on which way you swirl the glass, clockwise or counter-clockwise. The reasons he posits for this are… interesting. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Enjoy.

Please also note the link at the top leading to an equally entertaining follow-up article where he further attempts to explain his wine prowess and reasoning.

Facepalm, headscratch, mouth agape, etc.

Myrcene: the Green Giant of hop aroma

And we’re back!

Myrcene chemical structure

Myrcene is an aromatic hydrocarbon which is an important part of the essential oils of a number of different plants, most notably hops. In perfumery, it is used as an intermediate in the production of various aromatic compounds like geraniol, nerol, and linalool. In brewing, it is considered the headlining feature of the “green hop aroma” and is often found in many dry-hopped beers. It has an odor which is described as “herbaceous, resinous, green, balsamic, fresh hops, and slightly metallic” and can be quite pungent at higher levels sometimes smelling a bit like floor-cleaner. In water its odor threshold is about 14ppb, but it is a good deal higher in beer. While it is found at very low levels in kettle-hopped beers, its high volatility and low solubility in aqueous solutions means that it doesn’t tend to stick around very long during the kettle boil. In fact, some studies have shown that myrcene levels in beers which were hopped at the beginning of the boil are around 0.13ppmppb, while beers which were hopped after wort cooling had about 66ppmppb – a 508x difference! Myrcene is also readily oxidized and there are some ideas that if it doesn’t volatilize up and out the kettle stack, then it probably degrades and leads to a handful of other aromatic compounds.

Cascade hops tend to be regarded as the classic “myrcene hops”, and in fact it makes up roughly 50-60% of the total hop oil fraction of Cascades. Some hop varieties do have higher levels of myrcene than Cascades, however. Amarillos (~70%), Citra (65%), Crystal (40-60%), Horizon (55-65%), Simcoe (60-65%) and others can have higher levels than Cascades. Conversely, most of the European Noble hops have some of the lowest levels of myrcene: Saaz (5-13%), Hallertau Mittlefrueh (20-28%), and UK Fuggle (24-28%) are among the lowest. Keep in mind, however, that geography, growing conditions, and storage conditions all play a part in dictating myrcene levels. The same study mentioned above showed that a post-wort-cooling hop addition with hops aged at 40C for 30 days yielded myrcene levels of 0.82ppm (as opposed to the 66ppm with cold-stored hops). As with most other aspects of hop quality, there is a difference between whole hops and pellets as well. Whole hops can have as much as 70% more myrcene than pellets of the same variety, but that difference is flipped when the wort is hopped as only 5% of myrcene is extracted from whole hops compared to 17% from pellets.

(note: there are some discrepancies in the literature regarding myrcene levels in Hallertau Mittlefrueh, with some levels reported to be around 10-30% of the total oil fraction, while another study has found higher levels of myrcene in Hallertau MF than in Cascade hops. Since more sources are reporting that H.MF has very low levels compared to most other hop varieties, that is the idea I would stick under most circumstances).

References:
IndieHops, In Hop Pursuit Blog, Hop Oil: Is Bigger Better? A Preview of Ongoing Research at OSU

Kishimoto, T., Investigations of Hop-Derived Odor-Active Compounds in Beer, Hop Flavor and Aroma, Proceedings of the 1st International Brewers Symposium, 2009, pg 49-58

10/24/12: An EDIT that took too long to initiate: fixed myrcene levels from ppm to ppb.

A pretty corny post.

One of the most ubuiquitous flavors in beer, present to some degree in pretty much every beer, is dimethyl sulfide, or DMS. It’s a normal part of beer flavor but, as usual, its acceptability is dependent on the intentions and desires of the brewer. It can be a large portion of the flavor profile of certain beers, while in other beers it is expected to be at much lower levels. For example, Rolling Rock is considered to be a prominent example of a beer which is high in DMS (although in the past it may have been swamped by skunky/lightstruck flavors as I believe Rolling Rock has not always been brewed with light-stable hop extracts).

DMS has the aroma of canned vegetables, particularly corn or creamed corn. It’s a small and simple molecule; as the name conveniently implies, it has two methyl-groups flanking a sulfur atom:

Typical flavor threshold for DMS in beer is about 35ppb, and beers from around the world can contain anywhere from 10-200ppb. Typically lagers tend to have a bit more DMS than ales do, but what dictates the DMS levels in your beer more than the yeast is the production parameters in your brewery, particularly the kettle boil and wort-chilling.

DMS is considered to originate from malt, although it is actually formed in the brew kettle. All malt contains a variant of the amino acid methionine called S-methyl methionine (SMM), and it is an intermediate in a number of biosynthetic pathways which plants use to make other compounds. SMM is pulled into the wort during mashing and lautering and as the wort is heated the SMM degrades and is converted into DMS. While the wort is boiled, however, the volatility of DMS allows it to be removed from the wort and out the ventilation stack to never return. If there is no way for steam condensate to escape from your kettle (like if your homebrew pot is covered during the boil) then that condensate will drip back into the wort returning that DMS back into your beer. In such a case, the SMM is still creating DMS because the wort is hot, but the DMS can’t go anywhere so it just continues to build up into higher and higher levels. For this reason, the whirlpool and/or wort-chilling stage after the boil is a critical time in DMS control: if the wort sits too hot for too long, DMS will continue to develop since there is no boil to drive off the compound. I recall some power outages here at the brewery which knocked out the brewhouse for a bit. The brew that was in the whirlpool at the time wound up staying in there for much longer than it should have, which lead to a beer with astronomical DMS levels. At first glance, you may think that controlling DMS might be as easy as making your boils longer to convert all the SMM to DMS and drive it out the stack, but there is enough SMM in most malts that this is not a practical solution: the boil times required to convert it all and volatilize it could be hours long and would be quite detrimental to other wort parameters and the quality of the beer. Some kettles are more efficient at stripping DMS than others, as well. A simple direct fire or steam-jacketed kettle would be less efficient at removing DMS than a kettle with a calandria, which would be less efficient than a Merlin kettle. In fact, I recall brewery which, after installing a Merlin-style kettle, wound up being so efficient at stripping volatiles from the wort that they had to “de-tune” the kettle to make it less efficient since it was throwing off the flavor profile of their beers.

Even after the wort is chilled to the point where SMM is no longer being converted into DMS, the whole corny story isn’t over yet. During fermentation, the carbon dioxide that is produced by the yeast has a scrubbing effect on the DMS, carrying some of it out of the beer. This happens more efficiently at higher temperatures since the fermentations are more vigorous, and for this reason ale fermentations are better at this than lagers. This is why many lagers tend to have somewhat higher levels of DMS than ales do.

Here is a pretty handy chart I found on the internets showing some data about the DMS levels in wort/beer over the course of production. You can see how the levels drop significantly during boiling, but how they can potentially rise again before the wort is chilled. Then they fall again during fermentation as the yeast help blow off some more of the remaining DMS.

Finally, another potential source of DMS can actually come from bacterial infection. Some species of Enterobacter can produce DMS, along with diacetyl. This is quite uncommon in normal production scenarios, but it could conceivably happen more frequently in homebrewing situations. However, the vast majority of DMS in beer comes from the malt and the boil, so if you have an issue with corny beer, check the brewhouse parameters first.

But the story of corny beer doesn’t stop there, no! A challenger appears!

As I collected various flavor compounds that I understood were in beer, I came across a reference to another malt-based compound which was described as “biscuity/malty”. I thought this might have something to do with the biscuity aroma which is a dominant malt flavor in beers which use Victory or “biscuit malt”. Well, I was wrong. As I opened the package of 2-acetylpyridine which Sigma-Aldrich had shipped to me, I realized “This isn’t biscuity at all. This smells like freshly cooked corn tortillas!” It was like opening up that container of steaming tortillas at a Mexican restaurant, or a bag of high quality corn chips. So that’s what my panel calls 2-acetylpyridine now, “corn chips” rather than “biscuity”. Wikipedia says that 2-ap has an odor threshold of about 60 parts-per-trillion, but other literature values I’ve seen indicate that in beer it is closer to 40 ppb (and my experience with it shows this to be pretty close).

2-acetylpyridine, as seen below, is found in malt (and corn chips) and is created by the Maillard browning reactions. These reactions take place when certain types of sugars are heated in the presence of amino acids. It’s a highly complex series of reactions that take place which lead to a whole slew of compounds, including flavor compounds and color compounds. It’s not caramelization, but it can be confused with it if you are unfamiliar with the differences. The browning of the bread as it toasts, the malting of barley, the browning of beef as it cooks – these are examples of Maillard browning reactions.

I’m not going to go much into 2-ap, but just brought it up to show that not all corn-type flavors in beer come from DMS. In fact, I’m starting to think that some of the flavors in our beer that I have previously associated with low levels of DMS might actually wind up being 2-ap and that’s pretty interesting.

Hope to post again soon! But probably not.

Lightstruck.

It’s been recognized in beer since the 1870′s, and it may just be one of the most well-known flavor defects in beer across the world. Just because it’s recognizable, however, doesn’t mean people are necessarily bothered by it since Corona and Heieneken sell plenty of bottled beer. It’s becoming common knowledge among some of the beer-drinking public that putting beer in clear or green bottles will allow it to become skunky or “lightstruck”. Following right behind is the growing awareness that, with the use of specialized hop extracts, brewers can successfully put beer in such bottles without resulting in skunked beer (Miller products being the best known of these). We’ll discuss these topics and more as we explore this phenomenon. A warning: there will be chemistry.

First, the molecule: 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol, but you can call it 3-MBT for short. With a threshold of around 4 parts-per-trillion in beer, 3-MBT is among the most potent flavor compounds that can be found in beer; as such, it does not take much to ruin your beer. If you drink your beer from a pint glass on a sunny patio you may notice this flavor by the time you reach the bottom of the glass – that’s how quick this problem can arise.

Here’s the little bugger now. Rather innocuous looking, isn’t he?

3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, or 3-MBT: Source of Lighstruck / Skunk flavors in beer

We’ll take a small break here for a minor organic chemistry lesson involving molecular nomenclature. The great thing about O-chem is that there are rules by which molecules are named, and if you know the rules you can figure out the molecule’s shape and features. Let’s take 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol: the “but” part of the name tells you that there we are dealing with a carbon-chain that is 4 carbons long (1 carbon: meth-; 2 carbons: eth-; 3 carbons: prop-; 4: but-; 5: pent-; etc etc). Each carbon is numbered sequentially, and I’ve included the numbers in the image. As the name implies, there is a “thiol” group on the number 1 carbon. A thiol is like an alcohol group but with a sulfur atom in place of an oxygen, -SH instead of -OH. Continuing to look at the name we see that on the number 2 carbon there’s an “ene” group, which means that there is a double bond between that carbon and the next. Finally, on the number 3 carbon, there is a methyl group (essentially a branch made up of a carbon “chain” made of only one carbon – remember “meth-” meaning 1 carbon?). So, if one of the carbons off of #3 is a methyl group, which one is the #4 carbon? For the purposes of this molecule, it can be either one, and whichever is #4 then the other is the methyl group. This concludes the nomenclature lesson. Now, back to the… well, more chemistry I guess.

Continue reading

Esters

Yes yes, I know. You’re right: it’s been far too long since I’ve posted. Well, I’m going to try to make it up to you with a nice article about one of the most influential and ubiquitous flavor components of beer: esters. I bet you’ve been waiting a long time for this article.

So, what are esters? If you ask a chemist they’ll tell you that esters are a class of molecules which contain a specific type of functional group called an ester group, if you can imagine that. These ester groups are made up of an oxygen molecule double-bonded to a carbon which is immediately adjacent to another oxygen which is bonded in-line with the carbon chain of the organic molecule. Perhaps a picture would illustrate the concept well.

A generic ester.

Looking at that picture we see a portion of a larger molecule, where the R-groups represent what could essentially be any kind of organic chain. The ester group consists of the carbon and the two oxygens that are bound to it. Esters, due to the variation that can occur at those R-groups, are found in many shapes and sizes, but they all share the common feature of the ester group. The smaller weight esters are quite volatile and are frequently used in the production of food products and fragrances; they are largely responsible for much of the flavors and aromas associated with many types of fruits. Larger weight esters are also found everywhere, from DNA and plastics to triglycerides and explosives (nitroglycerin).

More after the break. Continue reading

Genetic diversity in olfaction is larger than previously thought

I ran across a short article over at Scientific American, and while it didn’t contain too much information that isn’t already known, it did describe some new research that says that the genetic diversity in how we perceive aromas may be larger than we previously thought (which seemed large already).

Here it is, and it shows just how difficult the job is for someone studying the human senses. How do you know that a particular panelist is responding to an odor the same way another is? Well, you don’t really.

Some practical examples of this have been seen in the threshold tests I’ve performed with the panel regarding diacetyl. Some panelist’s thresholds are down below 30ppb, while others are well over 100ppb, and there are even 1 or 2 who may be totally anosmic to it (meaning they have no ability to detect it at any concentration). Training a panel to be good diacetyl tasters can be tricky since finding a concentration of diacetyl for a flavor standard that is appropriate for the whole panel is pretty much impossible.

Another example comes from the flavor standard “indole”, which has been known to elicit a floral jasmine-like aroma for a certain portion of the population, while the rest of the population smells fecal material. That part is interesting enough, but what’s even more so is that, for me, I can smell it both ways. Like an optical illusion, I can “flip” my brain’s interpretation of this aroma back and forth at will. It’s really an interesting experience to be smelling a nice flowery flavor standard one second, then in the next second your nose is full of poop.

PS: Indole arises in fermentations which have become contaminated by coliform bacteria (those usually associated with sewage and waste-water), and tends to be most common when adjunct sugars are used which are themselves contaminated.