Reineccius Lab Spotlight
Each month we are highlighting one of our professors, their students, and their research. This month we highlight the work of Professor Gary Reineccius.
Since most of my research support has come from problem solving for companies, my research focus has to some extent changed as industry needs have changed. Perhaps an exception, I have had a long term interest in protecting food components (primarily flavorings) from deterioration during storage (or use until consumption). I say this may be an exception to following industry needs but in fact, the need for encapsulation research has been a growing over time, especially at the present time since the consumer trend is away from synthetic food additives and to natural counterparts. The natural replacements for our synthetics are often less durable and needing more protection from the environment (e.g. natural colorants).
Going back to changing needs, I joining the research field when analytical methods to measure flavor compounds were in their infancy – gas chromatography was barely 10 years old and mass spectrometry the same (at least in terms of putting these two tools into common use). Therefore, much of my early work was on developing methods to measure flavor compounds in foods. The Holy Grail was to chemically characterize the flavor of a food – determine what chemicals were needed to elicit the flavor of a food, cherry perhaps. There was an evolution of my work to then determine how the flavor chemicals in a food interacted with flavor – to understand why the same flavor formulation does not elicits the same flavor to a person when it is put in ice cream verses a cookie. Skipping to the present, my interests are in the problems of flavoring foods that are high in protein. Flavor quality deteriorates very rapidly when added to a high protein bar or a liquid protein energy drink. We are interested in why this happens and how we can stop or minimally, slow this loss.
What is the impact of your work on the field?
I would say that mentoring 65 students from a BS to either an MS or PhD is my greatest accomplishment. I have attempted to share my knowledge with each of these students so they may add to our understanding of flavorings in food.
If the intent is to ask about research accomplishments, I would say that it is one of my earliest findings: that the oxygen permeability of a spray dried capsule is improved by including a portion of higher DE maltodextrin to the carrier system. Prior to our work on this, the industry used a low DE maltodextrin which we proved to be very undesirable. Today every oxidizable ingredient spray dried around the world uses our formulation. I believe we have made other contributions but that is by far of the greatest importance.
How can people see the impact of your work on everyday life?
No one will see the impact of work, but they will taste it. Every study we have conducted has been aimed at improving the initial quality of a flavor and its longevity in the marketplace. We have make very significant progress in this respect.
What drew you to your field of study?
Practically speaking, I like food. I like good food. There is no other attribute of a food more important to liking than flavor. As a student I was drawn specifically to the flavor industry by visiting a vendor hospitality suite while attending an IFT meeting. I spend the evening listening to the old pros and the new comers to the industry. Everyone knew everyone else and shared stories. When closing time came, nearly everyone left. I found that the people in the suite there were all competitors! Yet, they were friends. I liked the idea that flavor research and development is a small subset of a large industry. I liked the idea of it being a “family”. Today I am one of few honorary members of the Society of Flavor Chemists (when I was given that honor, there we were only 3 or 4 such members globally). I have been given the highest honor from another segment of the flavor industry – FEMA (Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association). I am pleased that my efforts to serve the industry have been valued.
What is your favorite research tool and why?
It has to be a gas chromatograph (GC) coupled with a sniffing port and/or mass spectrometer. The sniffing port is a critical add onto a GC. Our GC instruments give a response to chemicals but they cannot tell us if it is good of bad in odor. It cannot tell us its character – eggy, baked, toasted etc. The GC itself tells us little so we have to put a person at the end of the analytical system that smells every component that the GC provides – we must have a human detector added our instrument – the sniff port.
What is your greatest research accomplishment?
I think I have covered that earlier when I mentioned the use of high DE maltodextrins as flavor carriers in spray drying and the great “kids” that I have done my best to mentor.
What do you hope to accomplish next?
My practical answer is to quit and hope that my position is filled by someone with an interest in flavor research. Flavor is very important to health/nutrition (people eat what they like), sustainability (replacing annual crops with perennials) and the success of the food industry (flavor is the primary determinant of what foods people consume). I believe flavor research is an essential element of our department’s contribution to the world around us.
If we are to be a bit more focused in this answer, I want to write two books – one is to update the Flavor Chemistry and Technology and the other is a new book on Flavor Applications. There is no book giving instructions on flavorings should be properly used in the food industry.