photo of Alina Szczesniak

With feeling

Recent articles in the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times Magazine reveal the scientific measures taken by McDonalds and other fast and frozen food corporations to improve the texture and flavor of their products. Texture, as it turns out, is as important as flavor when it comes to making food irresistible to consumers. Of course, Alina Surmacka Szczesniak '48 has known this for years.

Szczesniak helped develop the science of food texture, starting in the 1950s as a researcher with General Foods Central Laboratories. "Back then," she says, "texture was a forgotten food attribute. But today, it's in the limelight. It's more or less a household word." In the 1960s and '70s, she initiated a series of studies proving that texture greatly affects people's food preferences. She developed the now-standard Sensory Texture Profile, which analyzes, quantifies and places in correct sequence all textural properties perceived from the moment a piece of food is placed in the mouth until the last particle is swallowed.

In 1985, she became the first woman to receive the Nicholas Appert Award, the highest honor bestowed upon its members by the Institute of Food Technology. It commended her "pioneering work on food texture that led to its recognition as an important quality attribute affecting consumer acceptance and to its organization as a subdiscipline of food science." Szczesniak notes three "big changes" in food texture science over the last half century: "Texture has gained recognition as a saleable food attribute important to consumers. The field has become more scientific in terms of computerized instrumental testing and quality control. The field has its own journal, and several good textbooks have been published which act as tutorials for young scientists."

Szczesniak credits Bryn Mawr for teaching her communication skills through English composition and public speaking courses "which were most useful in advancing my career." She came to Bryn Mawr as a foreign student after the Second World War, which she spent in her native Poland.

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