Shah Razul was preparing an Atlantic lobster roll to share with his family in Singapore when he realized something was off.
The expensive Atlantic Canadian lobster he'd bought at a major grocery chain in Singapore didn't have the fresh flavour he'd grown to love while working in Antigonish, N.S.
The St. Francis Xavier University chemistry professor studies ice formation at the molecular level and decided to apply his knowledge to food.
"I was wondering what ingredients they were using to extend the [lobster's] shelf life," he said.
"Immediately understanding the freezing process and crystallization of water and all of these kind of issues, I began realizing I'm sure I can come up with something better."
90 kgs of test lobster
This summer Razul and a team of students boiled, de-shelled and froze 90 kilograms of lobster as part of a yearlong research project to study whether it's possible to make lobster taste fresher longer.
Cooked lobster is frozen in a salty brine to try to preserve it, but Razul said ice still damages the frozen shellfish's tissue when it forms.
"It starts going downhill a little bit. The proteins don't hold up as well," he said.
Razul's lab is examining how compounds known as cryoprotectants can prevent or impede that process at the molecular level.
To do so, he added six ingredients to a brine often used in the lobster industry. He said the mixture will be appetizing and still taste like lobster juice, but he expects it will react differently under a microscope.
He said the dominant ingredients are all natural products and used in food products, but wouldn't disclose them because the formula could be patented.
Taste will be final test
Throughout the year, Razul will be using computer simulations to study the freezing process.
The lobster meat, which was harvested in northern Nova Scotia, is now stored in vials at a temperature of –20 C.
But whether it works will also come down to a good old-fashioned taste test.
Researchers at Acadia University will thaw the lobster and members of the public will conduct sensory tests in six and 12 months time.
"We can get caught up with scientific principles and how crystalization of water happens and what the molecules do," said Razul.
"But at the end, the consumer — or the discerning lobster connoisseur — is going to say, 'But it needs to taste good.'"
The research is funded by Springboard Atlantic, a federally funded not-for-profit that aims to connect researchers with industry.
Razul said he hasn't formed any partnerships yet, but he hopes it will eventually help industry and lobster lovers alike.