Researchers to create unified descriptive language for US cider

A pair of researchers in the US have embarked on a US$500,000 four-year project to create a common descriptive sensory language for American cider.

As reported by Virginia Tech Daily, Jacob Lahne, assistant professor of food science at Virginia Tech, and Clinton Neill, assistant professor of population medicine and diagnostic sciences at Cornell, received a US$500,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture for the project.

The aim is to create a unified descriptive language for American cider that will allow producers to communicate more effectively with consumers.

With an upsurge in small-scale craft production, but with growth of the overall US cider market beginning to slow, the USDA provided the grant to help boost the sector.

Working with both cideries and consumers in Virginia, New York and Vermont, the duo will first work to establish flavour profiles and what are considered positive attributes in cider production.

Volunteers will assess cider samples at Virginia Tech’s sensor evaluation laboratory in order to agree on common descriptor words. Once the sensory terms have been established, the pair will conduct tests and surveys to establish whether the new cider lexicon affects consumer enjoyment and understanding of cider.

The results will be assessed and formulated into a standardised marketing language by late 2024.

Speaking to Virginia Tech Daily, Lahne said: “The average consumer knows that an IPA and a lager taste different, and they know what to expect if they order one or the other. But that doesn’t exist for cider.”

“We’re not trying to dictate styles to the industry. But we are trying to get a big, accurate snapshot of a large sample of ciders so the industry can start re-articulating their sensory qualities for consumers the same way the beer and wine industry does.”

He also hopes to prove the hypothesis that a cider tastes different depending on where the apples are cultivated.

“Our theory is that you can make cider that tastes different when you make it from apples grown in a particular place,” he told the publication. “Wine consumers understand that a Pinot Noir tastes different from a Cabernet Sauvignon, and also that a Cabernet Sauvignon made in California tastes different from one made in Bordeaux. But nobody has checked to see if that actually happens for cider, so I’m excited to take a look.”

It follows the creation of groups including Cider is Wine and industry campaign Discover Cider in the UK. 

Cider sales have also fallen sharply in the UK due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and closure of pubs and restaurants as well as the cancellation of festivals, a key market for cider.

Apples are being left to rot as producers cancel contracts with growers due to a slump in demand.

Ali Capper, a cider apple grower and chairwoman of the National Farmers Union horticulture board, told The Times that out of an estimated two billion cider apples grown in the UK each year, a quarter will go to waste in 2020.

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