Flavor chemist joins experiment station, Bumpers College food science faculty
Scott Lafontaine joined the department of food science at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas to investigate the chemical components that impart desirable smells, tastes and mouthfeels to drinks and foods.
By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Scott Lafontaine joins food science department in Division of Ag, Bumpers College
- Focuses on flavor chemistries of crops, beverages and foods
- Combines sensitive chemical analytical instrumentation with sensory analysis
PHOTO of Scott Lafontaine: https://flic.kr/p/2nSQ6ka
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Scott Lafontaine, assistant professor in food chemistry, joined the department of food science at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas to investigate the chemical components that impart desirable smells, tastes and mouthfeels to drinks and foods.
He will teach classes in food and flavor chemistry for Bumpers College and conduct research for the experiment station — the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, and the U of A.
Lafontaine earned bachelor’s degrees in molecular biology and chemistry in 2011 at Kean University in New Jersey. He earned a master’s degree in biotechnology at Kean in 2012 and another master’s degree in chemistry at Oregon State University in 2015. He earned a Ph.D. in food science at Oregon State in 2018.
During his master’s studies at Oregon State University, Lafontaine worked in environmental toxicology. He applied analytical instrumentation to investigate sources of air pollution in the Pacific Northwest. His interests then shifted during his Ph.D. studies and he applied the same analytical techniques as a tool to evaluate the quality of hops and beer.
“Traditionally, hops were used in brewing as a preservative and to add bitterness,” Lafontaine said. “But during my Ph.D., craft brewers were trying to determine what chemically was in hops that contributed to their unique aromas in beer.
“Knowing what chemical compounds in the hop oil that were important for beer flavor allowed us to better predict beer aroma so we could tweak agricultural processes and/or brewing processes to get optimal hop and beer quality,” he said.
After completing his Ph.D., Lafontaine wanted to learn more about sensory and consumer science. and joined Hildegarde Heymann’s laboratory at the University of California Davis as a postdoctoral scholar. During this time, they performed a foundational study on the chemical and sensory characteristics which impact the preference of American consumers towards nonalcoholic beer.
Lafontaine then received a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship, sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, to be hosted by Dr. Ing Nils Rettberg in the Department of Special Analytics at the Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin. During this time, he investigated novel approaches to promote the flavor stability of nonalcoholic and dry-hopped beer. “Dry-hopping” refers to adding hops to beer after most of the fermentation is completed to impart more hop aroma and less hop bitterness.
Lafontaine said his experiences have led to a grain to glass mentality. “This is an understanding that the quality of raw materials and the processes and individuals that impact this are interconnected to the quality of value-added products,” he said. “These experiences have helped me build a skill set that allows me to molecularly deconstruct crops and have helped me to develop strategies to investigate how changes in the molecular composition of crops may impact value-added products like beer.”
He has also gained a particular interest in investigating the processes used to create preferable low- and no-alcohol beers.
“These beverages are extremely popular in Europe,” Lafontaine said, “and there is going to be a lot of growth in this market segment in the future.” He also said that consumer demand for “no” and “low” healthy alternatives to alcohol are driving this growth.
Lafontaine also said there are new studies indicating that some hop constitutes in beer have interesting health benefits.
“The growth of this market opens opportunities to explore the health benefits of beer decoupled from alcohol content,” Lafontaine said. “I want to establish a facility and infrastructure so I can collaborate with individuals who want to design low- and no-alcohol beverages. I also want to partner with companies who want to develop new brewing ingredients and/or new processes specifically for these products as well as with individuals that would be interested in assessing the health and social impacts of these products.”
Lafontaine will also lend his expertise and enthusiasm in brewing to teaching courses in the department of food science’s Certificate of Proficiency in Brewing Science program.
The knowledge and technology that he has been applying to hop and beer production can also be applied in a variety of applications. “It’s possible to tie important flavor compounds to genes that might be regulating the production of these compounds in the crop.” Lafontaine said. “Therefore, we can start to identify the genetics behind both good and bad flavors.”
He plans to work with fruit breeder Margaret Worthington and rice breeder Xueyan Sha, both Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station scientists, and Shannon Pinson, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, located on the Division of Agriculture’s Rice Research and Extension Center at Stuttgart. Those collaborations will focus on characterizing the chemical flavor profiles of blackberries and rice in their breeding programs.
“With slight modifications this same technology and methodology could work with berries, rice, alternative proteins, etc.” Lafontaine said. “Provided you build in flexibility in your instrumentation and methods you can apply flavor chemistry to anything.”
Lafontaine also plans to set-up and offer for hire testing services for a host of different analytical methods. These services can help guide farmers in production timing for their crops and/or help brewers dial in their process.
To help establish his research laboratory he has acquired a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to equip his lab with a gas chromatography-olfactometry-mass spectrometer (GC-O-MS). This instrument can analyze the chemical components of flavors and aromas in a variety of food and beverage applications.
His academic appointment in Bumpers College will include teaching Food Product Development, a capstone course in the food science degree, and Intro to brewing science. He is also designing a course in Brewing Production and Analytics.
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and on Instagram at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.