Aussie spag is just as good: tasters

Dr Mike Sissons
Spaghetti was chosen for taste tests that compared Australian and Italian products, because it is the major pasta shape consumed in both countries, says NSW DPI cereal chemist, Mike Sissons.

If you buy Italian pasta in preference to Australian because you think the Italians make it better, think again.

A study comparing Italian and Australian spaghetti has found there is no difference between the two, based on the opinions of experienced taste testers as well as more objective measures.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) cereal chemist, Mike Sissons, said premium Italian pasta "is widely accepted as possessing the most desirable colour, flavour and textural properties.

"It is regarded as the international quality benchmark."

The study, published in the March issue of the journal Food Australia, was undertaken by NSW DPI in conjunction with the Co-operative Research Centre for Value Added Wheat.

Fifteen imported commercial dried Italian spaghettis and nine Australian made spaghettis were compared, both by a trained sensory panel, which tested the pasta "blind", as well as with instruments that measure texture.

Dr Sissons said this latest study sought to fill a gap in research by comparing the subjective scores of a sensory panel with more objective instrumental tests.

Sensory appeal of spaghetti is determined by appearance, texture and flavour and is considered by many to be the ultimate tool for measuring the cooking quality of pasta products. However, there still can be variation between different panels.

Aussie-spag-is-just-as-good

The 12 members of the sensory panel each had 12 months training in food evaluation and took part in three pasta-specific training sessions prior to the experiment being conducted.

Each panelist received five strands of the same type of pasta and each strand was used to evaluate the following attributes:

  • Chewy (the effort needed to crush or grind food with teeth in order to swallow),
  • Rubbery,
  • The first bite (difficulty for the front teeth to make the initial bite),
  • Sticks to teeth (how much pasta sticks around the teeth),
  • Floury mouth coating, (left on the roof or mouth after food is swallowed).

Separate tests known as Texture Profile Analysis were undertaken using instruments to assess hardness, adhesiveness or stickiness, cohesiveness and gumminess.

Dr Sissons said the sensory panel detected differences between different pastas, but as a group the locally made Australian pasta was not obviously different from the pasta from Italy.

"If a trained panel doesn’t detect any differences between the two groups of samples then most consumers will not detect differences as they are less discriminating than trained panelists."

The instrumental results meanwhile showed the Australian group was firmer, less resilient but not stickier.

Dr Sissons said that they generally matched the rank score of the sensory assessment of "first bite".

The study concluded that the ratings from instrumental tests were currently not yet accurate enough to enable them to replace sensory tests as the best means to predict pasta quality.