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Overall, the researchers reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, bread made with refined flour had a more desirable aroma profile, with hints of corn chip, caramel, and floral notes. Whole-wheat bread was richer in cucumber, fatty and earthy notes. In both cases, chemical workups agreed with the noses of the experts.
Next, the team focused on ferulic acid, which is normally bound to wheat's cell walls but is set free during fermentation and baking. Only after it is liberated does it begin to alter the flavor and smell of bread.
When the researchers added ferulic acid to refined-grain bread, they found that its aroma resembled that of whole-wheat bread. Ferulic acid appears to suppress a compound called 2AP, which is the most important molecule behind whole-wheat bread's unique smells.
That finding served as a sort of "proof of concept," Peterson said, showing that ferulic acid plays a key role in producing the aroma of whole-wheat bread. Along with flavor, which he is also studying, aromas have a major impact on the way we experience food.