June 9, 2022

Evaluation of Food Aromas Using a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS)

Image of food smell

Let’s look at an example of how a Shimadzu product is used in everyday life. The theme of this article is food aromas and gas chromatograph mass spectrometers (GC-MS).

One of our flagship products, GC-MS systems are used in various fields, including food & beverages, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, forensic medicine, and environmental.


Two Ways of Evaluating Aromas

Aromas are an important factor in determining the flavor of foods. A flavor is composed of a complex mixture of the aromatic substances consisting of diverse ingredients in food. Sensory testing is essential because aromas are experienced in different ways depending on the person. In such evaluations, the actual aromas are sniffed by a professionally trained person or panel of people.

Another way to evaluate flavor is to detect the aromatic substances themselves. Food and fragrance manufacturers use analytical instruments to obtain objective sensory data. A typical instrument for these tests is a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS).

Detecting Trace Level of Aromatic Substances Using GC-MS

GC-MS can detect trace levels of organic compounds in a sample. Among these systems, Shimadzu’s highly sensitive triple quadrupole model allows measurements at concentrations at levels of one part in a trillion. This is equivalent to the concentration of an aqueous solution made by dissolving 0.5 mg of sugar in 500,000 liters of water in a 25-meter pool (16 meter long, 25 meter wide, and 1.25 meter deep).

Triple-quad GCMS-TQ8050 NX Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer

Triple-quad GCMS-TQ8050 NX Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer


To detect and identify specific compounds characterizing aromas using GC-MS, Shimadzu provides special systems and compound databases. Smart Aroma Database, which we released this January, contains data on more than 500 scent-related compounds. It assists with determining whether a compound is present, and with measuring the type of compound.

In addition, we also provide an off-flavor analyzer, specialized for analyzing mold smells, plastic smells, and other odors, thereby contributing to quality control.

Comment from the GC-MS Development Staff

In conventional aroma analysis, users have difficulty comparing analysis data to the aromatic compounds, and they have trouble identifying which of the compounds characterize the aroma.

Smart Aroma Database makes it easy to detect which compounds contained in an aroma characterize the fragrance. In addition to high-accuracy automatic detection of fragrant compounds, the database is equipped with a function that searches for the compounds characterizing an aroma using olfactory aroma information, including what kind of aroma it is. This helps accelerate the R&D for aroma analysis.

Along with our off-flavor analyzer, Shimadzu provides total support for aroma analysis using GC-MS, contributing to research and development and more efficient quality evaluations in the areas of foods, beverages, flavoring, and industrial materials.

(Staff at the MS Business Unit in the Life Science Business Department in the Analytical & Measuring Instruments Division)

Press release of Smart Aroma Database is available here.


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