Professor Heather Smyth

Professorial Research Fellow

Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
h.smyth@uq.edu.au
+61 7 344 32469

Overview

Professor Heather Smyth is a flavour chemist and sensory scientist who has been working with premium food and beverage products for more than twenty years. With a background in wine flavour chemistry, her expertise is in understanding consumer enjoyment of foods and beverages in terms of both sensory properties and composition.

Smyth has a special interest in describing and articulating food quality, understanding regional flavours of locally grown Australian produce, and modelling food flavour and textural properties using instrumental measurements. Smyth also specialises in researching how human physiology and psychology can impact sensory perception and therefore food choice.

Research Interests

  • Distinctive Australian Foods and Beverages
    Australia has the opportunity to be the supplier of premium foods into global markets but needs to go beyond traditional ‘clean and green’ positioning to secure sustainable high value market positions. Across all commodity sectors, there is the opportunity to further develop the Australian advantage through identifying and marketing distinctively Australian food products to receptive target markets, such that they are ‘reassuringly expensive’. Defining unique 'regional flavors' of Australian products is one approach to develop a point-of-difference in premium products. Another obvious way to add distinctiveness is to use ingredients which are sourced from uniquely Australian native plants. Projects that address these challenges and opportunities may broadly include (1) investigations that identify, validate, communicate and generate consumer value from the distinctive characteristics of foods and ingredients sourced from Australian agriculture, and (2) exploring how to develop food and ingredient industries based on the unique composition and characteristics of Australian native plants.
  • Next Generation Foods and Beverages
    Future foods will contain natural health-promoting components, such as plant phytonutrients (which act as antioxidants) with reduced fat, sugar and salt levels. The challenge for food companies is to develop healthier foods for the future without compromising on sensory properties and consumer enjoyment. In many cases, it is currently not possible to dramatically reduce the level of fat, sugar and salt because of a loss in mouthfeel and flavour as well as structural integrity. Increasingly, food companies are looking for alternative means in which to structure food that allows it to have superior nutritional value whilst having favourable sensory properties. Projects in this area may include (1) exploring new ingredients and processes to identify novel ways of delivering desirable sensory properties in processed and minimally processed products, and (2) investigating human sensory perception, physiology and mouth behaviour, to understand how to deliver equivalent sensory experiences in modified products.
  • Understanding Human Sensory Perception
    Enjoyment of food is highly dependent on an individual's ability to sense the properties and components of food. The human sensory system is highly complex, with different sense organs simultaneously relaying nerve signals that activate multiple parts of the brain. Sensory perception is further complicated by our behaviour (such as the way we chew) and our physiology (such as our saliva), not to mention psychological, biological and environmental factors. Food companies are keen to understand the interaction between the food product and the consumer such that they can design nutritious foods that meet and exceed customer requirements and expectations. Research in this area may include (1) understanding the interaction of food and beverages with physiological factors such as human saliva, and (2) exploring the natural variation in an ethnically diverse population in terms of sensory acuity, physiology, mouth behaviour and consequently perception.

Research Impacts

Professor Smyth works closely with the food and beverage industries to discover what sensory qualities consumers want and supports the design, production and marketing of superior products with increased consumer value. Current projects involve specialty coffee, beer, wine, native plant foods, cocoa, premium beef and seafood, tropical fruits, cereals, dairy products and some processed products and snack foods.

Smyth is also heavily involved in training industry and researchers in the application of flavour chemistry, sensory and consumer evaluation methods.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Adelaide
  • Bachelor of Science, University of Adelaide

Publications

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Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

View all Supervision

Publications

Book

Book Chapter

  • Fyfe, Selina, Schirra, Horst Joachim, Rychlik, Michael, Smyth, Heather E. and Sultanbawa, Yasmina (2022). Australian Green Plum ( Buchanania obovata ). Handbook of Phytonutrients in Indigenous Fruits and Vegetables. (pp. 219-227) GB: CABI. doi: 10.1079/9781789248067.0014

  • Smyth, Heather and Sultanbawa, Yasmina (2016). Unique flavours from Australian native plants. Australian native plants: cultivation and uses in the health and food industries. (pp. 265-274) edited by Yasmina Sultanbawa and Fazal Sultanbawa. Boca Raton, FL, United States: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group. doi: 10.1201/b20635-20

  • Innes, David J, Dillon, Natalie L., Smyth, Heather E., Karan, Mirko, Holton, Timothy A., Bally, Ian S.E. and Dietzgen, Ralf G. (2015). Mangomics: Information systems supporting advanced mango breeding. Genomics and Proteomics - Principles, Technologies, and Applications. (pp. 281-307) edited by Thangadurai, Devarajan and Sangeetha, Jeyabalan. Oakville, Ontario, Canada: Apple Academic Press/CRC Press.

  • Cozzolino, D., Corbella, E. and Smyth, H. (2012). Quality control of honey using spectroscopic methods. Honey : production, consumption, and health benefits. (pp. 113-132) edited by Gilles Bondurand and Hernan Bosch. Hauppauge NY, USA: Nova Science Publisher.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision