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What’s in your rum? Flavor scientists create a lexicon of terms to describe nuances of popular beverage

Published July 27, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Aficionados use words like “oaky” to describe some wines, or “hoppy” when talking about certain beers. But for rum—a product with over 1,000 different varieties—putting the words together to describe what imbibers are smelling and tasting is a bit more difficult.

Consequently, researchers at the University of Illinois were interested in creating a rum flavor lexicon, but needed to find a way around the biggest problem with tasting rum—sensory fatigue.

Having a set of terms, or a flavor lexicon, helps manufacturers and consumers communicate about what sets each variety of a food or beverage apart using a standardized vocabulary. But when it comes to tasting rum or other high-alcohol content beverages, in order to describe and classify what they are experiencing, tasters run into “sensory fatigue” after just a few samples because of the alcohol. This makes it difficult to accurately describe the nuances found in all the different varieties of the product.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Food Science, “flavor scientists” in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the U of I present a novel rum flavor lexicon by turning to what rum experts were already saying on the internet. Using rum enthusiast blogs, company websites, and product reviews for over 1,000 varieties of rum online, theirs is the first study to create a rum flavor lexicon using web-based materials.

Keith Cadwallader, a professor of food science at U of I, says despite the popularity of rum right now, not much research has been done, in terms of the flavor chemistry or flavor science of the product. “Rum is an unexplored area, especially considering the diversity of the product. There are over 1,000 kinds of rum, which makes it hard to define.”

Unlike other types of distilled spirits, such as whiskey, rum has few limitations on what defines it as a product—what makes a rum, a rum, so to speak. The only production requirement is that the distillate must be produced from a sugarcane by-product.

In Cadwallader’s lab, he and others study all aspects of flavor, particularly aroma. “We’re interested in compounds that have some kind of odor impression that can be detected by humans,” he says. They have studied products like whiskey and cheese in the past.

But Cadwallader says curiosity led them to find a way around the problem with tasting rum.

Chelsea Ickes, a doctoral student in Cadwallader’s lab, says typically a descriptive analysis panel is used to describe what the tasters are smelling and tasting in a product. “You would need to taste rums representative of all the different categories. With so many types of rums available you would need to first screen nearly all of them and then choose ones representative of different categories or classes, and just evaluate those subsets of rums to create a lexicon. This could still be 50 or more different rums due the huge diversity of the spirit,” she explains.

But after just a few samples, tasters experience sensory fatigue. “If you drink distilled spirits, the alcohol content can be a little overwhelming and it becomes hard to pick out all the different attributes that are present. A panel may only be able to analyze two to four samples a day. Additionally, you have to use a trained or experienced panel, and samples must be evaluated multiple times. So, it takes a long time, a lot of training, and it’s an expensive product as well.”

Considering the time, cost, and limitations due to sensory fatigue, Ickes and Cadwallader began scouring the internet for reliable sources of rum descriptors.

“For rum, because so many people are enthusiasts, there are lots of reviews and descriptions online. So the information is readily available,” Ickes says. “Instead of having a panel drink and evaluate all of those rums, we just took the data from people who are already interested in rum and who have taken the time to review, rate, and describe the product. We then collected all of those data to create a lexicon from the terms enthusiasts are already using.”

Overall, the researchers collected data from 17 websites and 57 companies (product descriptions), comprising over 3,000 individual reviews. Rum evaluations were coded for aroma, aroma-by-mouth, and taste attributes.

Ten individuals participated in a sorting exercise to categorize all the unique terms that were identified in the online search. The final lexicon, organized in a wheel by categories, and color-coded, includes 147 terms and 22 categories.

So, what does rum taste like, according to the internet?

Some of the categories include caramel, baking spices, fruity, woody, sugar, and dried fruit to name a few. More specific descriptors within those categories include words like vanilla, coconut, molasses, walnut, and smooth, as well as others not as clearly defined or understood.

“These are terms used by people in the industry, and some are not common English words,” Cadwallader says. “These are terms that maybe people in the industry understand and already use. But, you have to figure out what they mean. Though, I think this approach is sometimes more useful than just having 12 people come to a lab and develop new terms that aren’t used by industry professionals.”

Lexicons have been developed for other products like cheeses, spices, bread, olive oil, beer, and wine. “What’s limiting with the web-based rum lexicon is that it only describes finished products. Distillers may want a lexicon to evaluate the product throughout the process,” Ickes says. “You would probably need to add more terms that better describe intermediate products, like the distillate or the fermentation broth that are not going to be covered by the terms used to describe only the finished rum.”

In addition, Ickes notes that, “Trained panelists, people who have been trained to perceive odors and aromas, may pick up on notes that the average consumer does not notice, or off notes that are in the final products that distillers might need to be aware of and don’t want in their final products. Those terms might need to be added to better evaluate samples.”

Rum enthusiasts and manufactures will certainly find the lexicon useful, but Ickes is already using it to train sensory panels to analyze premium rums and find the driving sensory attributes that distinguish these from mixing rums.

The paper, “Novel creation of a rum flavor lexicon through the use of web-based material,” is published in the Journal of Food Science. Co-authors include Chelsea M. Ickes, Soo-Yeun Lee, and Keith R. Cadwallader, all in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the U of I.

Partial support for this project was provided by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, under Project ILLU-698-366.

Food banks respond to hunger needs in rural America

Published July 27, 2017
purple sunset over farm

URBANA, Ill. – Many images of rural America are food-related—a fresh-baked apple pie cooling on the windowsill, a roadside produce stand brimming with sweet corn and tomatoes, or a Norman Rockwell print showing a family sitting down to dinner. But the reality is that many people in rural America face hunger and don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

“Just because rural communities are surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, it doesn’t mean residents can walk by and eat it. It’s not available in that sense. It would be like saying that people living in Silicon Valley must have really great cell phones or that cars are cheaper in Detroit,” says University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen who studies food insecurity. “We find that food insecurity exists in rural areas just like it does in urban areas.”

Gundersen’s recent research on the subject sheds some light on hunger-relief efforts in rural America. According to his research, Feeding America has a substantial presence in rural communities, providing food assistance through member food banks and the food pantries with which they partner.

“There has been a perception that food pantries are mainly located in urban settings, while rural communities are isolated places where food assistance is not being provided to people in need. We didn’t find that to be true. In fact, we find that, based on certain measures, food banks are doing a great job at reaching rural areas,” Gundersen says.

This research combined data from two of Feeding America’s studies: county-level food-insecurity rates from Map the Meal Gap, and information about the programs that provide charitable food assistance across the country from Hunger in America.

“Due to the work of Map the Meal Gap, many food banks have become more cognizant of needs in their area and have been reaching out to fill the need. Hunger in America helps tell the story of that reach. They’ve been doing a lot of novel things with mobile food pantries, for example,” he says.

Does this report mean we can sit back and relax knowing that people in rural America are getting what they need? Gundersen says, “No.” Meeting the need is not as easy as simply making food available, especially in rural areas where long distances and transportation barriers can keep some from accessing such services. He also stresses the continued need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

“This is still an urgent situation. The most critical social safety net against hunger in the United States continues to be SNAP. We need to maintain its effectiveness. Another key component of our safety net is the work done by Feeding America. They have a limited amount of food and face challenges. We did this study to better understand the need in rural counties and the extent to which services are offered in rural areas.

“Federal programs like SNAP and charitable programs like those operated across the Feeding America network provide critical resources to food-insecure people in rural areas,” Gundersen says, “Despite this, the social and economic conditions in these areas have not improved as much as they have in other parts of the country. If they were, we wouldn’t have, by the most recent count, more than 42 million people who are food insecure nationwide.”

The study, “Food insecurity across the rural-urban divide: Are counties in need being reached by charitable food assistance?” is written by Craig Gundersen, Adam Dewey, Monica Hake, Emily Engelhard, and Amy S. Crumbaugh. It is published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.



In the air and on the ground: Experts discuss the future of drones, robotics in agriculture

Published July 26, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and other robotic vehicles are no longer seen as toys for hobbyists, but are becoming an important tool for the future of agriculture. But many people still have questions about the safety of drones, about how farmers are using UAV on their farms, and what kinds of regulations exist in order to use these new technologies.

Dennis Bowman, a University of Illinois Extension educator and expert in agricultural technologies, including drones, explains that there is much interest from agriculturalists in UAV technology because of the opportunity to see a “bigger picture” of what’s going on in their fields. Although crop scouts may be able to see problems while walking through acres of corn early in the season, it becomes more difficult to detect problems across the field later in the season.

“When the corn is up over your head, it’s hard to see what’s going on throughout the entire field.  The opportunity to get this picture from the air, to be able to see what’s going on at the far end of a 120-acre field that’s not easily visible from the road, you can do a better job of seeing all the things that might be going on,” he says.

He adds that drone technology is already allowing farmers to see areas of the field showing problems such as nitrogen deficiencies, weed problems and the extent of the problems, and impacts of drainage issues in a field. “All of these are in these aerial images. Documenting things that happen during the year, a historical perspective of the crop development throughout the season, we can add to the data set.

“There’s a lot of interest in this technology.”

Recently, Bowman along with Girish Chowdhary, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at U of I and expert in field-robotics and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) shared some of the advances and limitations of robotic vehicles in agriculture during a one-hour live Twitter chat and podcast.

Chowdhary explains that UAV, also called drones, refers to aircraft that does not have a person inside, and is flown by an operator using a remote control, or an aircraft that glides or floats.  UAS, however, refers to the combination of the aircraft, a communication interface, the operator, and any other support system that helps the unmanned aircraft can do something useful. “UAS made popular during early 2000s, but UAV have been used for a long time,” Chowdhary says. “UAS have become more feasible and more practical in the early 2000s as computers became smaller and more powerful.”

Chowdhary says the next frontier of UAV and UAS technology is ground robots and drones working together to tackle problems in fields such as weeding, fertilizing, or sampling the plants.

“The real game changer will be when drones start working with autonomous ground equipment—small robots that can go under the canopy,” he says. “Drones are really useful when the canopy closes because you can’t walk n that canopy. Unfortunately, a lot of the time with problems, by the time they’re visible in the canopy it is often too late. Ground robots that are small enough to drive between the rows and go under the canopy can provide a different perspective on what’s going and potentially work in tandem with the drones to more quickly find the problems and their causes.”

Hear more from Bowman and Chowdhary on what’s next for drone and robotic technology in agriculture, as well as changes to FAA regulations for drone operators, in the podcast at

New field crop plant pathologist joins U of I crop sciences department

Published July 25, 2017
Nathan Kleczewski
Nathan Kleczewski

URBANA, Ill. – A new field crop plant pathologist will be joining the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois this fall. Nathan Kleczewski will be working directly with growers to diagnose and mitigate the impact of major crop diseases across Illinois. Although he won’t officially start until November, Kleczewski plans to attend this year’s Agronomy Day – yet another reason to make the trip to the U of I campus on August 17.  

“Applied research and extension in field crop pathology have tremendous value for growers and for our college. Nathan will lead an innovative program that will add to our efforts in providing independent research in plant protection for Illinois growers,” said Germán Bollero, department head for crop sciences.

In an interview last week, Kleczewski discussed his background and his plans for the new position.

ACES Marketing and Communications: Tell us a little about your background.

Kleczewski: I grew up in Wisconsin and spent most of my career in the Midwest before moving out east. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in ecology and plant biology, and I earned my doctorate in plant pathology at The Ohio State University. I spent some time as a postdoc at Indiana University and Purdue; worked in the fungicide/nematicide group at FMC Corporation; and, in 2013, started as an extension field crop pathologist at the University of Delaware.

ACES: Why Illinois?

Kleczewski: Being close to relatives is huge for me. Being back in the Midwest, it’s what I’m familiar with. I just feel more comfortable here. There is more space and privacy, and it is a great place to raise a family.

I’m excited to be a part of Illinois, a big state with a lot of field crops and many opportunities to do good field crop pathology. It’s pretty exciting to be working in this state that has roughly 10 million acres of soybeans!

ACES: Do you have specific projects in mind yet?

Kleczewski: I’ll continue some of the work I’ve been doing in Delaware, working on fusarium head blight in wheat through the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. As far as other crops, some of my initial projects may involve soybean cyst nematode, fungicide sensitivity, endophytes, and the impact of cover crops on field crop diseases. There is a great group of pathologists in the region as well, and I hope to work collaboratively on some projects that not only will benefit growers in Illinois, but the region and country as a whole. Because my program is based on grower needs, I’ll need to meet with people this fall and winter, talk to them, and get a handle on what the major issues or concerns are in this area so I can plan accordingly.

ACES: What impact do you hope to have?

Kleczewski: My main goal is to increase overall grower productivity by addressing disease related issues. When push comes to shove, I work for the growers. I want to make sure their needs are being met and they’re ultimately being successful or becoming more successful than they already are. I will help track and monitor emerging or reemerging diseases in the region and develop management programs to address these issues, if warranted. I’m also going to be involved in outreach and will set up a variety of new ways for growers and the agricultural community to access current field crop disease information. I’m big into websites, internet, apps, as well as the more traditional printed materials. I actually love public speaking, so I look forward to delivering talks to growers and industry professionals throughout the state.    

ACES: What else should we know about you?

Kleczewski: This dates me a little bit, but both my wife and I are huge Seinfeld fans. Also, I’m pretty active, so I like to play sports and go to concerts. Some people may not like this, but I grew up in Wisconsin, so I’m a Packers fan, but not one of those foam cheese head-wearing types.

University of Illinois President Emeritus and Dean of ACES to Provide Keynote at Orr 40th Anniversary Event

Published July 24, 2017
Kimberlee Kidwell
Dr. Kimberlee Kidwell

PERRY, Illinois – University of Illinois President Emeritus Bob Easter and Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Kimberlee Kidwell will serve as keynote speakers at the 40th anniversary celebration of the University of Illinois Orr Agricultural Center and John Wood Community College Agricultural Education Center on August 2 at 5 p.m.

In 1977, Governor Jim Thompson approved the appropriations that led to the historic agreement between JWCC and the University of Illinois to share educational and research facilities near Perry, Illinois. This partnership is one of very few in the country between a flagship four-year land-grant institution and a local community college. 

“I’ve been privileged to be an observer of and at times engaged in activities at the Orr Center since its very beginning,” Easter said. “The incredible ongoing support of the local founders and advocates, and the strong and positive relationship with John Woods Community College have enabled ACES faculty and staff to do in-depth, locally relevant research and to provide solid public education programs for the citizens of the region.”

The University of Illinois College of ACES conducts agronomic and animal science research at the facility and JWCC provides instruction and training for agricultural certificates and degrees at the same location.

“The connections among the College of ACES, JWCC, and the Orr Center allow us to live into the land-grant mission on the ground in this region of the state of Illinois,” Kidwell said. “This anniversary celebration creates an opportunity for us to honor the journey we have traveled together up to this point, and for us to frame a path forward to expand and strengthen our efforts to build the workforce pipeline for agriculture and allied industries through collaborative education, and to promote a vibrant future for agriculture through applied research and extension.”

Larry Fischer, JWCC Board of Trustees chair shared, “As former and current leaders of the University of Illinois, Drs. Easter and Kidwell understand the value of the research and education made possible by the unique partnership between the two institutions. This collaboration has helped thousands of students and farmers access new technology, practices, ideas, and opportunities to feed and fuel the world. Local research and creative use of public educational dollars support the private agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the economy. We are honored to host them and appreciate their support to continue this partnership well into the future.”

JWCC has educated more than 1,600 ag students since the facility opened. Each year more than 50 agronomic and animal science research and demonstration projects are conducted by University of Illinois campus-based staff and the station superintendent, supported by JWCC ag students and interns. The research includes soil chemistry and fertility, soil management, crop production, animal science, weed science, variety testing, and environmental quality. 

In addition to Easter and Kidwell’s remarks and short program, the center’s agronomy and beef research areas will be available for viewing. To RSVP for the event or to obtain more information, contact or 217-833-2944.

Dr. Robert Easter

Easter, who retired in May 2015, came to the University of Illinois as a graduate student in 1973 and joined the faculty after earning his doctorate in animal science in 1976. He served as a department head, dean, interim provost, interim chancellor, and interim vice chancellor for research at Urbana-Champaign and was appointed president of the University of Illinois in 2012. He was named president emeritus in May 2015 and is also an emeritus professor.

During his distinguished career, Easter mentored thousands of students, collaborated with industry and stakeholder groups, and conducted groundbreaking research in swine production and nutrition. He led cutting-edge swine-related research projects and taught students and others around the world about ways to improve pig production. His research was instrumental in developing a lean growth model in the early 1990s.

Easter also engaged in educational and consultative activities in the swine and feed industries in the United States and around the world. He lectured in the American Soybean Association-sponsored Chinese Animal Management and Production Systems (CHAMPS) program in China and co-authored a textbook on swine management used in that country.

He received the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Medallion in 2015 for his unwavering devotion to the university and the Robert A. Easter Endowment Fund was recently created to recognize his outstanding leadership and service. The endowment fund supports a chair to be held by the dean of the College of ACES.

Dr. Kimberlee Kidwell

Kidwell, a nationally respected scholar of plant breeding and genetics, was appointed as dean of the College of ACES in November 2016 and holds the inaugural Robert A. Easter Chair. She is an award-winning teacher, student mentor, and academic administrator with extensive experience in academic program development, financial management, and engagement.

Kidwell is dedicated to improving student learning; driving sound, innovative research; and cultivating industry partnerships to improve the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Illinois, in support of the land-grant mission of the University of Illinois. 

She is an accomplished spring wheat breeder and geneticist, developing more than 20 wheat varieties for Washington State farmers. Her research has led to multiple patented discoveries, and addressed basic questions involving gene discovery, genetic characterization, and genetic mapping of important traits for wheat improvement.

She has been recognized with numerous honors and awards for her hard work in research, teaching, and leadership. Most recently, she was named a Crop Science Society of America Fellow. She grew up in Danville, Illinois, and earned bachelor’s degrees in both genetics and development and agriculture science from the University of Illinois. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

News Source:

Tracy Orne, 217-641-4109
Additional Images:
  • Robert Easter