Researchers develop new ways to describe cider – rich, fruity, sour, and funky

How do connoisseurs know how to describe a taste? How do you build a flavour wheel to categorise things like wine, beer…or cider?

A group of US researchers have developed a “sensory descriptive analysis” to do that, coming up with 33 terms to describe the apple beverage.

“Because we are minimally trained on using taste and smell, we have a hard time putting a word to a specific taste or smell,” says Martha Calvert, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech, US, and lead author on a paper describing the research, in The Journal of Food Science.

“Sensory terms help to distinguish hard cider products and give producers and consumers tools for talking about cider flavours.”

The researchers recruited eight volunteer “panellists” to evaluate cider flavours for the study. (Cosmos can’t help but think that recruitment for this study can’t have been as difficult as most.)

After 13 hours of training, the panellists did blind tastings of 42 different ciders from the northeastern US, writing down every term they could think of while tasting the cider.

Person moving around glasses of cider
Cider researcher Martha Calvert. Credit: Photo by Alex Hood for Virginia Tech.

“If one was experiencing tart and, another, sour, we would have a group discussion about what the words mean to us and exactly what we are referring to in our heads so we can pick one term,” says Calvert.

Panellists then chose words that most closely matched their experiences.

The result was 33 terms: 17 linked to aroma, 11 linked to taste and 5 linked to “mouthfeel.”

These terms included things like fizzy, vinegary, buttery, cinnamon, yeasty, and citrus.

They also included less obviously pleasant attributes, like astringent, rotten eggs, and rubber.

“Some of these terms fit broadly into four categories that I called rich, fruity, sour, and funky,” says Calvert.

The researchers are hoping to ultimately see a flavour wheel for cider from their results, that cider makers and drinkers can use to describe the drink.

More on flavour wheels: A bouquet of chocolate

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