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What's that smell? Sensory Science - What is it and how is it relevant to my business?

Updated: May 2, 2022

What exactly is sensory science?

When working with and consuming food & beverage products, we engage our five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste), making it deeply personal to each of us. We all know people who we share a love for a certain food with, on the flip side, we also all know someone that makes you think "how can you eat that?".

The aim of sensory science is to make sense of all these differences, to truly understand what the sensory attributes of a product are, if people like (or don't like) them and in some cases why they like them.

As we already know, each persons sensory biases, interpretations and preferences for food are unique to them, this makes collecting meaningful sensory data quite difficult. This is where science and technical rigour come in, by using scientific principles such as hypothesis setting, standardised methods for testing, training and calibrating sensory assessors we are able to unpick the individual sensory attributes of products, providing vital insights.

A critical field of science used in sensory analysis is statistics. Statistical analysis of sensory data allows you to determine if two products are statistically significantly different from each other for the tested attributes. The same statistical principles can be applied to understand differences in preference for products.

One hurdle to obtaining good statistical data from sensory analysis, is ensuring access to a high number of sensory assessors, which is more likely in a large organisation, that said, reliable and useful sensory analysis can be carried out with smaller groups of people. After all, having some level of testing is better than none at all.

What are the main types of sensory testing?

The majority of sensory testing falls under two main types, discrimination and descriptive analyses. Within which there are a broad variety of tests, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Discrimination Testing, also known as difference or qualitative testing allows you to understand if a change to product, such as a process modification, storage condition or ingredient have a noticeable impact on the sensory attributes of a product. This level of testing can be carried out with basic screening and training, is suitable for smaller companies and can easily be ran in-house. Simple discrimination testing can also be used to allow you to understand preference and acceptance.

Descriptive Testing, also known as quantitative testing allows you to delve into the detail, and understand more specifically which attribute(s) and sub-attribute(s) are different between products. For example, if you’re making the same product with two suppliers or making the same restaurant dish at two different venues. When running these types of tests, a higher level of sensory screening and training is required, often with dedicated facilities, making it more suitable to larger companies, or to outsource.

How is sensory science relevant to my business?

Sensory science is highly relevant to all food and hospitality businesses. Even at the most basic of testing levels, sensory analysis will allow you to understand your product(s) with greater clarity, getting you closer to your consumer.

Common areas where sensory science proves to be a vital tool within the food and beverage industries are, product development, quality control, handling instructions (such as cooking instructions), formulation or process changes and shelf-life testing.

Sensory science is also a powerful tool for the hospitality and food service sector and is often used for menu design and development, recipe creation, quality control and cooking method development.

In summary.

Sensory science allows you to understand the organoleptic properties of your products or menus and to identify what people like and don’t like, in a controlled and rigorous manner. Sensory testing is a useful tool in both food manufacturing and hospitality, if you’re keen to explore how you can add sensory testing to your business, please reach out to us.

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