Acquired Taste

Developing a consumer’s perfect potato

Published online: Jan 04, 2017
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This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of HZPC’s InZpire publication. It also appears in the January 2017 issue of Potato Grower

It is becoming increasingly important that the flavor of potatoes caters to the wish of the consumer. However, there are many misconceptions about flavor. This article gives some scientific facts about flavor and how the potato sector can use this to its advantage.

Hans van Doorn, program leader for quality, biometry and quantitative genetics at international potato breeding and marketing company HZPC, has been working with his team for 11 years to make all properties of a potato measurable.

“What many people don’t know is that you can measure flavor,” says van Doorn. “Tools are available that measure thousands of fragments that are related to the properties of aroma and flavor. Together they reveal how a potato tastes. We also conduct research with a panel of trained connoisseurs. The potatoes are scored on flouriness, dryness, earthiness and freshness. Preference is subjective, but flavor is objective and is therefore measurable.”

 

Fact 1: Aroma affects how much we eat

Dutch scientists conducted an experiment in which volunteers were given a dessert to eat while their nostrils were exposed to various aromas. What happened? The stronger the aroma, the fewer bites were taken. By manipulating the aromas, 5 to 10 percent less was eaten.

 

Fact 2: Coffee tastes better in a proper mug than in a plastic cup

Researchers in the U.S. discovered that the firmness of a cup affects how people assess the taste and quality of coffee. The same beverage in a proper mug was more appreciated than when it was offered in a plastic cup. This study clearly shows the importance of not underestimating good presentation.

 

Fact 3: Some people have more taste buds than others

The perception of taste and aroma varies. Some people have a stronger perception of flavors than others. This does not automatically mean that they are connoisseurs. We’ve all experienced loss of taste when we have a cold. A stronger flavor is then necessary for us to taste something. This principle also applies for people who have a strong sense of taste.

 

How can the potato sector use this information to its advantage?

“You can create a variety that tastes perfect, but it still may not appeal to everyone,” says van Doorn. “The majority of people know that flavor, aroma and texture go hand in hand, but the facts mentioned above show that the perception of taste is also an important factor.

“The perception of taste is strongly influenced by a person’s personality and the context in which they eat—in other words, social and psychological factors. This is often given little consideration. Researchers even consider it to be ‘interference,’ because these factors are beyond their control and are not constant. They do everything in their power to exclude them from studies, because they obscure the links the researchers are trying to establish. However, in marketing and retail terms, these factors simply cannot be ignored.

“A perfect product in the wrong packaging is less likely to be appreciated. PepsiCo learned that lesson in the U.S. when the company modified the packaging of its best-selling orange juice and sales plummeted. Eye-tracking showed that the new packaging did not stand out enough on the shelf. When it comes to the potato, the external characteristics and how it is presented are also important for the consumer’s perception of taste.”

Potatoes should cater to consumers’ tastes. When breeders develop a new variety, it has to be appreciated. That in itself goes beyond the taste. It also concerns the right presentation and creating perception. The industry’s challenge is to translate all of these facts and factors into concepts that appeal to the consumer.