Sensory analysis needs the human touch

By Stine Møller, senior scientist and sensory lab manager

You can’t beat the human senses for measuring the crispness of a baguette and other sensory attributes of foods. That makes the Nutrition & Biosciences sensory panel an indispensable tool.

Whether or not the 10 Nutrition & Biosciences sensory panellists like what they taste is irrelevant. When gathered for an evaluation session, personal preferences must be set aside and every ounce of concentration focused on giving each sensory parameter an objective score.

Our trained sensory panel is an essential measuring tool that takes over where laboratory analyses leave off. Despite everything that modern technology can offer, human senses are still indispensable to making a meaningful evaluation of the appearance, taste, smell, feel and sound of a food or beverage sample.

The ability to detect and describe
All the members of our sensory panel are carefully screened for their ability to detect and describe subtle differences in, for example, sweetness and creaminess – not to mention crispness, as you can see in our Bakery Performance video.

Before each evaluation session, we conduct training to ‘calibrate’ the panel. Our objective here is to establish a common frame of reference when evaluating and scoring sensory parameters on a pre-defined scale. This ensures the repeatability and comparability of the panellists’ scores.

Instructions for handling the samples are equally imperative. The size of a bite, the number of chews, and whether the panellists take a bite from the end or the side of a sample – all have a bearing on the evaluation.

Reliable assessments of new applications
The sensory lab’s customers are by and large Nutrition & Biosciences colleagues, primarily application specialists who need to assess the attributes of a test product made in our application labs, whether as part of a customer project or proactive concept development. For this reason, it is typically our application specialists who set the agenda for the sensory evaluations.

Some application development projects run over quite some time. It is important that the same panellists are used for all the evaluations throughout – drawing on their ability to make reliable assessments against the same scale from one session to the next.

Thanks to our panel, our ability to analyse the sensory attributes of food and beverage products is today second to none. Drop me a line if you’d like to learn more.

Healthier foods based on a brainwave

Human taste buds are directly connected to the brain. That’s a fact we are exploiting in a 5-year PhD project currently underway in our sensory lab.
Using electroencephalography (EEG), a technique commonly used to diagnose epilepsy, we can measure electrical activity in the brain when the taste buds are stimulated. Our current study is investigating the effect of sugar, salt and fat.

By pinpointing the brain’s response to these stimuli, we can then identify alternative ingredients that produce an identical gustatory effect. This holds great potential for developing foods in healthier, reduced-calorie formats that are just as satisfying as the original products.

So far, we have looked at the gustatory effect of sugar. We will post more results as the PhD study progresses.

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