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Analytical: What and How Much?

By: Ed Albaugh; reported by Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: January 14, 2010

Read more presentations and find photos of the event here.

During his presentation at the 2009 Flavor Symposium, Ed Albaugh (David Michael) highlighted the importance of flavorists knowing what they want from analytical and what to do with the information the department provides. Highlighting modern instrumental analysis and techniques, including GC/MS, GC-O, UV-spec, HPLC, SPME, etc., he broke down the benefits of analytical for flavor chemists at the bench.

Albaugh noted that he finds people don’t always ask analytical for tests that would be helpful and turn out to be relatively easy to run. To begin with, of course, analytical can solve “the identity question”: “What is it? How pure is it? How much is there (often difficult to answer)? What is different and how different is it?” Analytical can also produce solvent system characterizations: How much propylene glycol or glycerin, ethyl alcohol, corn syrup or water is there? It can also determine vanillin content—easily and accurately. Other questions it may resolve include: Is there vanilla extract present? Does the flavor contain caramel color?

In working with GC/MS data – especially with long lists of identified compounds, Albaugh suggested flavorists first look for “marker compounds” that are found in few places. In other words, he said, “If I find this, then I have that essential oil or floral absolute in my formula.” The second thing to look for is “indicator compounds,” which could be components of an essential oil: “If you have this, you might have that but if you also have this and this and this, it is likely that you’ve got that.” An example of a marker compound would be Davanone because it is unique to Davana. Linalool or Eugenol would be good examples of indicator compounds as other identified components may point toward Coriander, Clove, or Cinnamon Leaf.

After identifying the “marked” and “indicated” components, choose a few representative items to provide the notes that you taste in the flavor. If the list has seven green notes, start with two or three. “You probably do not have to use all of the materials on the list,” he said. “Essential oils can provide one-stop shopping for many individual items.” One key rule of thumb he noted was: If it wasn’t found in an analysis, it is very likely that it wasn’t in the sample. The exception to this is for very strong ingredients, think p-Mentha-8-thiol-3-one, which will only show up in the baseline clutter. In those cases, guidance from the flavorist, who we know has tasted the sample before submitting it to analysis, can greatly help the analysts.

Albaugh noted that quantitation can be very difficult and that is a good thing for flavorists as it keeps them employed. One way to surmount some of the difficulties in quantitation is to compare your flavor trials to the target using the same analysis. When doing this, it is important to get the solvent system as close as possible because that will affect the results.

Finally, he said, in submitting samples to analytical, flavorists should describe the sample as well as possible. This may affect the type of instrumentation analytical uses. Flavorists should mention any compounds they’re looking for and ask questions of the analytical group rather than telling them what to run: “They know more about what they can do than a flavorist does.”