Beer and wedges
Howell Davies

By Howell Davies, Interface Food & Drink Business Engagement Executive

If you are expecting a Gillian McKeith-esque article informing you of the fact that ‘you are what you eat’, you probably want to put your iPad down and get back to your orange zest and pomegranate quinoa. 

What I am about to give you instead is a tip of the hat to some of the PhD Scholarships, Interface Food and Drink have helped to fund over the last five years. What you don’t necessarily see sitting behind the food and drink products we buy off the shelves is a whole raft of intensive research underpinning the sector, some commissioned and supported by industry using Scotland’s world class academic base.

Take Brewdog for example; according to their website, in 2015 they “installed a kick-ass canning line at our Ellon eco-brewery, swept the nation with the long-awaited canned Jack Hammer, and released the strongest canned ale in the world; Black Eyed King Imp”. What isn’t so apparent is that they are also funding a PhD student with Heriot-Watt University and the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling to give them an in-depth understanding of hop characteristics.  Anarchy in agronomy you must be thinking, alas no!   In order to continue in their pioneering way of pushing the boundaries of creativity, they know that a deeper understanding of the processes and the science behind their products and ingredients is essential. In fact, one of the founders, Martin Dickie, is himself a graduate of Brewing & Distilling from Heriot Watt and so no matter how far you push your branding, product is key to retaining your customer base.

We have co-funded a number of PhDs from the drinks sector. Now you may think that in processes such as brewing and distilling where alcohol in some form or another has been found throughout our history, we would know all there is to know. As technologies improve not only in the processes but also the analysis, both long established quality brands such as Glenmorangie and also new kids on the block, Three Stills, have invested in PhD students to help them create the best possible products in the most efficient way.

The good old trusted spud is another study from one of our ‘Food Doctors’, in this case Agrico UK Ltd working with Abertay University to develop a comprehensive understanding of the drivers underpinning consumers potato preferences and then build and test a statistical predictive model taking into consideration the impact of agronomic data on sensory qualities and linking these to consumer potato variety preferences. Don’t worry it’s not too confusing as far as science goes, the great thing is that the study is already helping to influence breeding choices for size, flesh colour, agronomic properties and consumer appeal. What more could you want?

So I hope you have enjoyed my musings and brief explanations of some of our PhD projects, which happen as a result of the foresight of companies, the knowledge, facilities and expertise of the Universities and the blood, sweat and tears of some very talented post graduate students. Not trivialising what I have written here, but I’m off home to enjoy a bottle of Punk IPA and some potato wedges, which I will annoyingly tell my wife is ‘brain food’.

30 June 2016