Enhancing the aroma of agricultural food products.


2013 to 2018


The sensory representation of the external chemical world in the brain is a translation of chemical features into patterns of brain activity. It is the nature these patterns—how that are established by stimulant patterns, how they vary in a population, and ultimately how they interact with other brain functions, e.g. emotions (joy) or behavior (buying wine)—that is the object of our research. We study aroma perception in order to provide information about food composition to producers that will allow them to produce likable, healthy and more profitable products.


Sustainable food production is more successful with value-added products than commodities. Fine wines associated with a terroir are the best examples. Because such food products usually express their value through their unique flavor, understanding the biology of flavor perception and the flavorants that produce them is central to enhancing their value. This research is intended to increase the profitability of New York food production through a better understanding of the unique features of foods that motivate consumers to pay more for them. Farmers care because higher prices give them better lives and the income to be better land stewards.


We have developed a database, called the Flavornet, of all the odorants in foods and put it on the web at http://www.flavornet.org. Flavornet is a compilation of aroma compounds found in human odor space. A seemingly infinite number of perceptions are invoked by the fewer than 1,000 odorants that make up this space. Those chemicals with mass lower than 300 Daltons bind to proteins on the olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) at the surface of the olfactory epithelium. Excitation of ORNs generates a topographic map of sensory information in the brain that is a representation of the stimulating chemical features of the external world. The Flavornet lists only those odorants that have been found in a human odor space at supra-threshold levels, i.e., at levels likely to stimulate ORNs.
We have developed a selective and sensitive bioassay, called CharmAnalysis, for smell based on gas chromatography-olfactometry (GCO) that, along with other forms of chromatography, spectrometry and sensory analysis, is used to study food quality. Using GCO and an odorant probe composed of stimulants that produce a broad range of perceptions, odorant-specific sensory deficits in human subjects were quantitatively measured as variations in odor detection thresholds.
To compliment the GCO technology that tells us which chemicals in food produce olfactory sensations we have developed a new olfactometer, the sniff olfactometer that allows us to study the psychophysics of odorant mixture with high sample and subject throughput. Developed over the last 5 years this new olfactometer delivers to a subject puffs of odor less than 150ms duration Called a Sniff Olfactometer (SO) it has already demonstrated the odor mixture perception is primarily based on component perception rather than the perception of a new sensation emerging from the mixture.


Food producers that understand the relationship between composition and perception can produce foods that enhance pleasure while sustaining profitable and sustainable land use. For example, work begun 10 years ago has recently resulted in a theory of Riesling wine aroma based on the level of one compound (TDN). Its analysis provides researchers with an analyte to study during culture, production and aging of wine. This in turn will provide farmers and wine makers with tools to produce a Riesling to sell at value added prices. Our goal is to discover more of the chemicals in food that drive perception and motivate food choices.

Submitted by: 

  • Acree, Terry E

Researchers involved: 

  • Acree, Terry E

Organizations involved: 

  • Cornell University Department of Food Science

International focus: 

  • Australia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • New Zealand
  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • California
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

New York State focus: 

  • Cayuga
  • Erie
  • Ontario
  • Seneca
  • Wayne
  • Yates