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by Leonard Obaldo, PhD


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, gkarr@oceanicinstitute.org.





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