Imagine enjoying the sights and scents of a springtime stroll across the UC Riverside campus and through the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection, except you’re sitting at a desk. Wearing virtual reality goggles. And inhaling artificial aromas carefully constructed to replicate the real thing.
Givaudan, the flavor and scent company that donated $3.5 million to protect UC Riverside’s precious citrus collection from the citrus disease huanglongbing, brought a cutting-edge sensory tool to Riverside last week. It consists of virtual reality googles attached to a computer and a chest containing tubes of scent chemicals. As the user watches Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection director Tracy Kahn take a Givaudan representative through the groves, scent drifts from a small vent near their nose whenever a fruit is cut open.
“It smells great and you can tell whenever you’re smelling something different,” Kahn said. “You can smell the campus in the introduction and can tell they filmed it in the spring.”
Givaudan brings clients who want them to develop new citrus scents and flavors to UCR’s citrus collection. For clients who can’t come to Riverside, the “Virtual Taste Trek” recreates the experience of walking through the collection to discover the scents and tastes they’ll commission the company to create. Faculty and administrators from UC Riverside’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences got to take the Virtual Taste Trek at last week’s event.
To develop the experience, Givaudan researchers took a variety of fruit samples in UCR’s collection and analyzed the specific compounds that give each its distinctive scent. The same esters, aldehydes, and other molecules scent and flavor all types of citrus, as well as Givaudan’s flavors and scents.
The Virtual Taste Trek contains 13 of the 1,000 citrus varieties found at UC Riverside, though that’s enough to discover a wide range of scent. The dominant and underlying notes for each type of fruit appear on the virtual reality display. Users can dial various components up or down, adding more cinnamon notes, for example, or toning down the fresh notes. The corresponding mixture is pumped from the tubes, allowing the user to create and test new scents on the spot.