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K-State Today

February 20, 2012

New Olathe campus Consumer Research Center cracking the case on tastiest black walnuts

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

The new Sensory Analysis and Consumer Research Center at Kansas State University Olathe will conduct its first consumer test on a Kansas product: black walnuts.

One hundred consumers will taste cookies containing different cultivars, or plant varieties, of black walnuts in sessions on Feb. 21 and 22. In blind tastings, they will rate six cultivars for flavor intensity and degree of liking, said Ashley Miller, master's degree student in sensory analysis. She is conducting the research with Delores Chambers, associate professor of human nutrition and co-director of the university's Sensory Analysis Center.

The results will help Kansas growers understand which cultivars consumers find most acceptable, and it will set a standard for food manufacturers that use black walnuts in their products, Chambers said. Kansas is the nation's top producer of black walnuts, and most are grown in southeast Kansas.

Before the consumer tests, Miller had to conduct a descriptive analysis of the black walnuts and develop descriptions of the terms to be used to describe them. For example, she characterized the black walnut cultivars used in her study as nutty and woody, acrid, and floral and fruity.

Professional panelists who have more than 2,000 hours of training and experience in sensory analysis took part in the descriptive portion of the research at the Manhattan campus.

"We will correlate the data from the consumer test with the descriptive data," Miller said. "By looking at these two data outputs, we can determine which cultivars the consumers found most acceptable and relate that to the dominant attributes found in those particular cultivars based on the descriptive analysis done with the trained panel.

"For example, if 'cultivar A' was found to be the most acceptable with consumers, we could match it to the attributes given to the cultivar by the panelists: high-intensity ratings in black walnut identification, overall nuttiness and fruitiness, and low-intensity ratings in acridity and bitterness."

Miller was an alternate to the ninth annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit Feb. 16 in Topeka. At the summit, 10 K-State graduate students shared their findings with legislators, the Kansas Board of Regents, industry representatives and other attendees.

The Olathe phase of the research is called "Consumer Hedonic (Liking) and Flavor Intensity Ratings of Black Walnut Sugar Cookies." The research on the descriptive data phase is called "Defining and Characterizing the 'Nutty' Attribute Across Food Categories."

The university's College of Human Ecology Sensory Analysis Center offers graduate programs in sensory analysis and consumer behavior, provides testing services to companies worldwide and maintains satellite centers at K-State's Olathe campus and in Bangkok, Thailand.