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29 May 2013

978 1 40515 649 3
Wiley-Blackwell
GBP 155

Biotechnology in Flavor Production

Daphna Havkin-Frenkel and Faith Belanger (eds)

Adorned with a vibrant juicy red tomato, the front cover of Biotechnology in Flavor Production suggests a health and vitality that ought to epitomize all the good things in life. The premise is that while we can produce all our own foods to reasonable quantities and standards, we can improve the flavours of what we produce by the application of genomic and proteomic biotechnology. Thus flavours and tastes are reduced to individual chemical and genetic components which are ripe for intensive manipulation in the laboratory, greenhouse and field. But what does this manipulation mean for the consumer? Simply put, greater diversity, less pestilence and disease and more flavoursome food on our table. From the humble potato to the rare and expensive vanillin, Biotechnology in Flavor Production reviews the latest genomic, proteomic, metabolomic and bioinformatic evidence to present thought-provoking ideas on the challenges facing the food flavouring industry and attempts to answer how flavour biotechnology is shaping the food we eat.

The mighty Saccharomyces cerevisiae inaugurates proceedings in a chapter devoted to beers, wines and Japanese saké. Saccharomyces has developed the unique ability to exploit sugar-rich environments to rapidly convert sugars into alcohols, thus limiting and inhibiting the colonization of rival organisms. This USP, or ‘unique selling point’, has vaulted Saccharomyces into the annals of essential alcohol producers where manipulation of growth conditions, genes and proteins has created some of the finest sensorial attributes known to humankind. These attributes, in the form of breakdown products such as volatile acids, glycerols, esters and carbonyl and sulfur compounds to name but a few, contribute to the unique flavour and diversity of alcohol. Similarly important is the genetic tractability of Saccharomyces where specific genes on metabolic pathways can be manipulated (knocked out or overexpressed) to produce strain variants enhancing alcoholic flavour and taste. By far the biggest chapter in the book, this not only reflects the importance of yeast to the beverage industry, but also places the diminutive single celled organism at the centre of a huge global marketplace worth billions of dollars.

Subsequent chapters deal with the production of vanillin from alternative sources, tomato aroma and the development of flavours in rice and apples amongst others. These chapters are variations of the main theme running throughout this book; basic metabolites and chemicals are identified in these foods, functional genomics and proteomics are applied to identify flavour biomarkers and recommendations made on how to improve flavour, texture, taste and shelf-life from a biotechnological perspective. Science aside, the psychology of flavour interpretation plays a pivotal role in food flavouring. Sensory testing panels are instrumental in providing academic researchers and industry with in-depth feedback that no transgenic plant could ever provide. Controversially, in a chapter on apple biotechnology, discrepancies are often recorded between fruit flavours from new apple cultivars and sensory panels. The authors attribute this to several factors, namely the extraordinary chemical heterogeneity of apples, inherent inconsistencies between experiment designs and the lack of standardized rules and regulations governing the flavour interpretation process. At this juncture, a flavour dictionary might have been a worthwhile addition!

The rest of the book is given over to general biotechnology topics; a chapter on the role of plant cell culture as a source of compounds and chemicals is edifying, whereas a chapter extolling industry regulation is rather dry. Similarly, there is a significant dearth of figures in some chapters which can be tedious. But some interesting observations can be made: research in the flavour industry appears to be economically driven; almost every chapter concludes with references to the capitalization and commercialization of the biotechnological discoveries being made. These observations tie in with an industry keen on enhancing flavours in our foods satiating fickle consumer desires to generate novel “customized aroma notes”.

Aside from a few bum notes, Biotechnology in Flavor Production is a well-rounded full-bodied review and is priced at a palatable yet reassuringly expensive £155.

John P. Phelan (Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland)



 
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