21 December 1999

Hot Diggety Dog

by Kate Melville

In some countries they call them hot dogs, in others frankfurter's and some unenlightened people have even taken to calling them 'donkey scrotum', but whatever your terminology there is science in hot dogs.

In a new study researchers in Northern Ireland have released a report looking at why low-fat hot dogs taste slightly different (ie worse) than regular dogs.

The research team led by Dr. Linda Farmer, from the Department of Food Science at Queen's University of Belfast and their findings were recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (UK).

Their report say that aroma compounds, that influence flavour, seem to be released more slowly and last longer in full-fat hot dogs than in their lower fat counterparts. With full-fat meat products, lipids (fats) appear to function as a 'flavour reservoir', that can be released slowly during eating.

The amount of flavour and (odour compounds in low fat meat products can be the same as those in full-fat wares, but because they contain less lipid, the flavour reservoir is much smaller. According to Farmer this causes a faster release of flavour compounds. "In practice, this means that the spicy, peppery flavours are strong to start with, but decrease quite rapidly thereafter".

Farmer's team used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, and combined with another highly sensitive detector, the human nose, to measure and evaluate approximately 70 flavour/odour compounds in hot dogs with varying levels of fat.

In many low fat varieties researchers found that the odours were much stronger.

For the consumers of hot dogs this probably just confirms their suspicion that while low fat may be good for you it does not necessarily taste good. Fortunately Farmer's team are now conducting a follow-up study to try and determine whether it is possible to slow the release of flavour/odour compounds in lower fat hot dogs, thereby improving their taste (results are expected within a few months).