Savor the Aroma in Packaged Food

September 1, 2005
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Savor the Aroma in Packaged Food
By Aaron Brody
If the emergent technologies become viable, there will come a day when scented packaging will contribute to the pleasure of eating by complementing the flavor experience.
People respond to odors. Cooks, chefs and, more recently, scientists all strive to compose interesting and desirable aromas to enhance foods, potions and personal articles for consumers.  
Since the beginning of modern packaging, though, scientists and technologists have labored to control the passage of odors, to minimize the intermingling of “good” and “bad” aromas. One of the rules of packaging has always been that odors shall not pass. Neither shall odors be unintentionally lost or altered by interaction with package materials or structures.
But that school of thought is changing. During the past 30 years, packaging professionals have attempted to add components to packaging to compensate for aroma loss, to mask change or deliver something new and desirable to the contents. They understand that active packaging that reduces the offensive and enhances the delicious can improve sensory pleasure and help launch a new concept in food/package/consumer integration.
This concept is complicated, especially since the blending of chemicals in a lab is often not equal to what is found in nature. And package materials, which invariably are engineered to function as barriers, do not store or surrender these desired materials on cue.
Success is often impeded by the volatility of the chemicals that constitute the odors. The complexity of flavor—the combination of multiple, sometimes thousands, of different chemicals that affect the scent, taste and mouth-feel of food—influences consumer perception.
The objective is to offer the yummy aroma of freshly baked bread, brewing coffee, newly harvested oranges—or even of steak grilling on the barbecue—to stimulate the consumer’s sensory receptors and to heighten their desire.
Delivery of odors on demand from a package structure might sound like a relatively simple engineering task, especially since we have been scratching and sniffing fragrances encapsulated in the walls of sample packets and coupons for years. But the act of opening a package does not necessarily release the desired mix in the concentrations required to stimulate the target consumer.
For years, packagers have “spiked” the headspaces of hermetically sealed packages of instant coffee with excess aromas to enhance the nose of the consumer first opening the jar or pouch. The problems include rapid dissipation and no follow through; once opened, the desired sensory effect is lost forever.
ScentSational Technologies (www.scentsationaltechnologies.com) offers systems in which desired encapsulated aromas are released into food and beverage packaging. Initial target markets for the technology are masking unpleasant odors from packaged fish oil tablets and herbal supplements.
Several companies have also mixed pleasant scents, such as citrus, into plastic films that continuously release the desired fragrance into environments where trash bags are present. Among the challenges is the inability to confine the volatile chemical to the film and not “contaminate” adjacent pristine film or packages. And, of course, there is always the issue of achieving a persistence of the desired odor, which often dissipates before it has completed its task. 
Olfactory sensations appear to be nature’s way of communicating that the food is safe and good to eat. Most of what people perceive as “taste” actually comes from their sense of smell. We are on track in replicating this natural communication mechanism—and with more of our emerging technologies put to the task, we are sure to achieve that elusive objective shortly. BP
The author, Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D., is President/CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., a consultancy in food, packaging technology and marketing. Contact Dr. Brody at 770.613.0991 or aaronbrody@aol.com

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