Flavour researcher becomes vegetable taste-maker
While working as a plant breeder, Luke started to question how flavour of fruit and vegetables interact to create the tastes we recognise. He moved to Reading to study a PhD, and now works as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant continuing his research through a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded project.
"Surprisingly little is known about the flavour compounds found in our foods. How these interact to create the aromas and flavours we take for granted every day is only just starting to be understood. Not everyone perceives tastes and flavours in the same way, and this is due to our own genetics. This in turn affects whether we like or dislike certain foods, and I'm interested in learning what chemical compounds might be responsible for these preferences."
In 2016 Luke was the PhD Researcher of the Year Finalist for the Food Research Theme.
Watch Luke explain his research in this short film
Luke was finishing his PhD thesis 'Rocket Science: Phytochemical, Postharvest, Shelf-life and Sensory Attributes of Rocket Species' when he decided to enter the Giract's Flavour Research Programme competition. He won the Best PhD Thesis in Flavour, which allowed him to travel to Switzerland for the annual symposium.
"It was a real eye-opener; there's so much going on behind the scenes in many companies and flavour industries that most people never get to hear about. There were some very interesting and exciting presentations, and it was inspiring to meet other people working in the flavour industry."
The specialist knowledge Luke has acquired since starting his PhD has led him into teaching alongside his research. As well as having input on the 'Farm to fork' undergraduate module and the AgriFood Training Partnership on plant breeding for flavour, Luke is expanding his own knowledge by co-supervising a student's research project.
"I'm currently co-supervising a master's research project to identify important odour compounds in different Brassica-type species, like rocket, horseradish, watercress and wasabi. These crops are known for their complex and pungent aromas, and we are using olfactometry and mass spectrometry to understand what chemicals are responsible for this."
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