Taking a bite in the name of research – Participants try onion rings for research

Participants taste testing onion rings at the Holland College Culinary Centre. Stephanie Drummond photo.
Participants taste testing onion rings at the Holland College Culinary Centre. Stephanie Drummond photo.
By Stephanie Drummond
Sept. 24, 2014

Charlotte Nicholson sat in a cubicle staring at blank screen waiting for the test to begin.
But there was there was no mark waiting for the Holland College student, only a $20 bill.
She was there to taste test onion rings.
Michael Bryanton is the research and development chef at Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, at the Holland College culinary Centre. He explained how the test would work.
“Answer questions on crispness of the onion rings, the flavour, the texture,” he said, “the onion rings have just been taken out of the deep fryer, so they are going to be a little bit hot.”
You could hear the onion rings ding as they were moved from metal bowl to plates.
“Oh! They smell so good,” exclaimed one woman.
Her eyes shut and she sighed.
“You get free onion rings and you get paid to eat them,” said Nicholson, who couldn’t wait.
Bryanton showed all participants into the room. Each cubicle had three samples of onion rings, each numbered, and a computer to answer questions.
All five participants walked slowly into their cubicles, sat down and looked around. One participant did not show up. I was asked to join.
Trying the onion rings made me feel as if I was Goldilocks, trying the bear’s porridge. One ring was too crispy and didn’t taste like a real onion ring. The second one had a better flavour but was off just a bit. The last one was just right, the perfect flavour, thickness and crispness.
But onion rings aren’t the only food the kitchen tests. It conducts evaluations a few times a month, said Bryanton.
“It depends on the client, who wants to sell their product to a major food chain. We do evaluations for projects. They want to know if their product is better than their current.”
Everything about the taste test is calculated, he said.
“If we have french fries, we can change the lighting to only red lighting so that the fries are not recognizable and focus solely on the flavour.”
Every participant was given $20, he said.
“It’s easier to recruit. Usually with a paid (taste test) there is a longer time invested.”
Emails went out to Holland College students and the public.
“After the questions on the three samples, there are demographic questions. People of a certain age range may have a preference for one.”
Meghan Arsenault, a Holland College student, enjoyed the experiment.
“I would absolutely do this again.”
Phyllis Duffy also took part in the study.
“I’m a former employee of Holland College. I know the process, and I like food.”
This isn’t Duffy’s first time taste testing at the Culinary Centre and she said it wouldn’t be her last.