Thursday, March 5, 2009

Food Science and Consumer Panels

I just did a bacon consumer panel at UIUC's meat science lab:

For this particular panel, I didn't get to eat the bacon, I just got to peel it apart from other pieces of bacon, stretch it, and evaluate how greasy it was. My consent form told me that the point of the panel was to get information to help pork farmers formulate diets for pigs and curing methods for bacon that resulted in the most appealing possible bacon. It also told me that my compensation would be a free pound of bacon!

Although a free pound of freshly cured, premium bacon is certainly compensation enough for spending 15 minutes peeling bacon apart, I felt that I got more out of the panel than just the bacon itself-- I also got to learn in a quantitatively rigorous way about the properties of bacon that make it appealing, and also how those qualities are studied by the nation's top meat researchers!

The criteria we were asked to rate the bacon on were 1) how does the bacon peel apart from the other bacon, 2) how stretchy is the bacon, 3) how greasy is the bacon-feel, 4) overall, how acceptable is this bacon, and 5) would you purchase this bacon. Then we had to rank the 6 bacons we tested from favorite to least favorite. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty stingy in my marks and only indicated that I would buy one of the 6. I assume that the unwashed undergrads in my panel gave, on average, higher marks.

I was surprised to find that what made me tend to rate a bacon higher on he greasy and sticky scales was not when the bacon was NOT greasy or NOT sticky-- mostly I found the samples too dry, and I only thought that one was TOO greasy. I also found myself quite disgusted when the bacon pieces didn't stick together, and when they tore when I stretched them. Fatty, greasy, sticky, stretchy-- these were the elements that resulted in a satisfying bacon. Lean bacon: you are an embarrassment to your food-group, sir!

Whenever an opportunity to do a food consumer panel comes up I take it-- it is almost orgiastically amazing that I get to go try out tons and tons of samples of a particular type of food, and not only do I not have to PAY for it, I get COMPENSATED for my time! The experience is often good for my palette too-- having to make distinction after fine distinction about many tokens of a particular type of food all at once(e.g., rate the sweetness of this rice wine on a scale of 1-10) helps to increase the tastewise resolution of my tongue. I might not notice the difference in earthy note between korean rice wine sample k247 and g653 if I drank them 2 months apart, but when I drink them one after another in a group of 30 wines I can notice all kinds of subtle differences between them.

In conclusion, I like writing big paragraphs that have the word "bacon" in every sentence. Also, despite the anti-bacterial wipes we were given at the end of the panel, my hands still smell decidedly like bacon. Not an unpleasant result.


Iroquois Pliskin said...

The internet needs more hard-hitting bacon-related reportage. i salute you!

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