From tasty tomatoes to crunchy cereal, a £700,000 laboratory will analyse the science behind the food that we eat.
Newcastle University are injecting the cash into a sensory testing facility that bids to improve the quality, taste and texture of food for consumers.
And the first piece of research carried out the new NU-Food facility will determine the best way to store tomatoes.
PhD student Rosie Dew has orchestrated a blind taste test asking volunteers if they can tell the difference between tomatoes stored in different ways after they are picked.
Chris Seal, director of NU-Food and professor of food and human nutrition at Newcastle University, said: “This centre has been established so we can do state-of-the-art measures and tests on the sensory properties of food.
“It involved developing and changing food recipes, and also how we handle food and fruits and how that affects the taste and properties of products.
“The test on tomatoes will look at how we store tomatoes and the difference between keeping them in the fridge or a basket and if it affects the taste and aroma.”
Data compiled by the NU-Food facility will be fed into food industry companies including Asda and Greggs to develop new and improved products.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of NFU Mutual who is also a member of the NE Economic Review team, will today launch the unit which also includes a demonstration teaching kitchen and an assessment suite for nutrition and health trials.
Prof Seal added: “NU-Food provides the perfect setting to support and validate new product development in the food industry.
“A facility of this size is unique in the region and gives us a greater opportunity to share our research and expertise with the industry and further boost the region’s competitiveness in this field.”
Scientists have already completed a research programme which analyses non-branded cereal with more expensive competitors.
They found consumers are mistakenly believing they are getting better quality because of the inflated price-tag.
In the tomato test volunteers are shown to one of the 10 new taste-testing booths and asked to compare tomatoes kept in a variety of conditions.
The research will look at how producers and suppliers can optimise the tomato supply chain for quality and energy expenditure.
Rosie said: “Tomatoes are typically refrigerated from the moment they are picked off the plant in order to extend their shelf life, but there is a trade-off and that’s a loss of that ‘just-picked’ flavour which diminishes over time.
“We are trying to find the perfect balance between the two. Can we, for example, limit the refrigeration to maximise on flavour but not compromise on shelf life, basically ensuring the best tomato for the customer?”
Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture Food & Rural Development (AFRD) already supports farmers members through tests on its two farms at Cockle Park and Nafferton and in the university’s research laboratories.
At the same time, the research teams have developed close links with industry, testing the validity of health claims, the nutritional value of foods and assisting in food marketing and sustainable supply chain management.
For more information, email NU.Food@ncl.ac.uk