Feeds remained the biggest expense
of farmers in their aquaculture operations. As researchers
continue to develop cheaper and environmentally friendly feeds,
we need to make sure seafood quality is not adversely compromised.
At OI, the evolution of specialized feeds fueled the development
of a Product Innovation Lab in fall 2005 as a venue to analyze
the quality of the fish and shrimp grown on the 56-acre research
facility. OI President, Dr. Bruce Anderson, is very supportive
of this initiative.
“ We’re testing fish and shrimp to make sure that as we change the
feeds, we’re not adversely affecting the taste and texture and color,” Anderson
said. “We’re trying to identify the practices that would actually
enhance the flavor of the fish over time. To compete with the rest of the world,
we’re going to have some added value.”
At first glance, the Product Innovation Lab resembles a commercial kitchen. But
there is much more to it. It is a research lab with a unique sensory evaluation
room with eight individual booths, where tasters cloister themselves to avoid
distraction. Tasters are seated in the private booths and are provided seafood
samples with crackers and bottled water for cleansing their palate between samples.
They need to have their senses undisturbed, without interference from noise or
other aromas, in an effort to achieve consistent quality testing. Quality, of
course, is largely determined by taste buds. So we trained a 12-person tasting
panel to evaluate blocks of uncooked or slightly cooked fish and shrimp. We trained
them to become expert in the quality attributes of fish and shrimp and to perform
objectively like machines. A reference sample is normally included as a baseline
for comparison and to help calibrate each taster. This type of testing is very
different from recipe evaluation. There are no seasonings added in the samples
because we are looking for the effect of fish feed on fillet color, texture,
and flavor. To conduct the taste tests, we gather at least eight people who write
their impressions of numbered samples. They examine such characteristics as moistness
or fattiness, rating the fish on a scale from one (dry or lean) to nine (super
moist or fatty).
The research work in the lab is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. We conduct taste tests of fish and shrimp raised on new feeds containing
ingredients recovered from Alaska fishery by-products and Hawai‘i agricultural
by-products. The taste panel provides feedback if the newly developed feed results
in less, equal, or better texture and flavor when compared to a commercial feed.
Other research work is geared towards specific aquaculture industry needs. For
example, OIcollaborates with Hawai‘i farmers interested in adding value
to their fish and shrimp using a finishing, organic, or fishmeal replacement
feed. We also work with U.S. feed ingredient manufacturers interested in incorporating
special additives such as antioxidants to extend freshness and shelf life.
Periodically, one-hour training sessions for volunteer tasters are conducted
at OI. Tasters are expected to be very flexible in terms of schedule and are
required to comply with OI biosecurity policy. Our current tasters consider their
participation as a good experience and a service to OI and the Hawai‘i
aquaculture industry. The lab maintains a waiting list of volunteers and welcomes
more. E-mail: LObaldo@oceanicinstitute.org or call 259-3131. Those interested
in pursuing internship or educational opportunities at OI should call or e-mail
Gary Karr at 259-3146, firstname.lastname@example.org.