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A Day in the Life - Sensory Analysis

A Day in the Life: Sensory Analysis - how does your food taste? As part of Science Week, Carol Griffin, Teagasc tells us what sensory science is and how useful it is. What is a taste panel? How do taste panels work? What can they tell us?

Sensory analysis is used to capture and interpret human responses to foods including how we react in terms of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell.

People generally understand the role that taste plays but the other senses are equally important, and we generally use them without realising it. Visual cues - how a product looks - give us clues as to the taste experience to come. For example, we expect a pink ice cream to taste of strawberry. Sounds, like the fizz when opening a soft drink or the snap of a chocolate bar, let us know that we can expect a fresh product, before we even put it in our mouth. In reality all of our senses work together during the eating experience.

Sensory Analysis is a very important tool for the food industry, with a range of applications.

  • It can be employed as part of the product development process or in the reformulation of products.
  • It is commonly used in Quality Assurance by food companies
  • It can be used to establish the shelf life of some products and to ensure they deliver sensorially up until their best before date.
  • Another application is in benchmarking or comparing a product against competitors.
  • Sensory analysis can also be used for problem solving in relation to particular products, such as detecting taints in beers.

There are two broad types of Sensory Analysis used to measure and interpret responses to foods, as perceived through the senses. In Consumer sensory testing, the consumer’s opinion of the product in terms of preference and/or acceptability is measured. It is important to use regular consumers of the product and ensure you have enough people so that the results are statistically valid.

Descriptive sensory testing can help food businesses to design and formulate food products by understanding how ingredients and processing impact the sensory profiles of foods. Teagasc has screened and extensively trained a number of descriptive sensory panels to characterise foodstuffs.

The assessment of food and drink by the different types of panels generally takes place in controlled environments, for example in special tasting booths.

The Future

Innovations in Sensory Science include the use of devices and equipment that have been developed to capture consumer’s automatic reactions to foodstuffs. The aim is to obtain objective answers, as humans can be very subjective when answering questions regarding their preferences. These include facial expression software, which captures and interprets consumer’s reactions to a range of food and drinks.

Eye tracking glasses can be used to determine the key drivers for a consumer choosing a particular product. They record where on a shelf a consumer’s attention is focused. They also track whether the person is focusing on nutritional information, price, or front of pack on a food item in store. This helps determine what information is of most interest to the consumer.

Virtual reality equipment is also now being used to immerse the consumer in the environment where they would normally consume the product (e.g., a busy coffee shop). This is to see if the responses to the product differ compared to the consumer tasting the product in a sensory booth.

Join Teagasc for a series of exciting virtual events for Science Week (November 8-15) as part of ‘The Festival of Farming and Food – SFI Science Week at Teagasc’. The core theme for Science Week 2020 is ‘Science Week - Choosing our Future’ focusing on how science can improve our lives in the future, and in the present. This will explore how science can help us to make positive choices that will impact the environment, our health, and our quality of life. Changes based in scientific evidence that we make today can hugely improve our future life, but also right now. Join our events on Zoom and get a chance to put your questions to our scientists in our live Q&As. Watch the events back here.

We’d love to hear from you. Be part of The Festival of Farming and Food journey on Social Media:

@Teagasc @ScienceWeek #FestFarmFood #BelieveInScience #ScienceWeek