Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Science of Flavor

Before the World War II, sensory evaluation wasn’t a formal discipline at all. It was just something everybody did haphazardly. A food company would simply figure something either tasted good or bad.

“It’s a fairly young science,” said sensory expert Ken Baseman, Ph.D., of Papa John’s Foods and Grocery, who addressed Cactus IFT on May 18 about the role of sensory evaluation as an integral part of the development of new products in the food industry.

What is sensory evaluation? The standard definition, according to IFT, is the following: “Sensory evaluation is a scientific discipline used to evoke, measure, analyze, and interpret reactions to those characteristics of food and materials as they are perceived by the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.”

As Baseman began, he explained that sensory science supports key food industry areas like food safety and quality, product development and manufacturing. In addition, he said, it’s consumer testing where food sensory evaluation really resides.

What do we do with it? Baseman said sensory evaluation is used for shelf life studies, product matching, product mapping, specification and quality control, product reformulation.

Based on sensory evaluation, companies can provide general guidance for the selection, training and monitoring of assessors.

“If I really want to set up a program and I want to talk to my comrades across the world, then we have a set of standards that we can all follow,” Baseman said.

And you can’t talk about flavor without a background in sensory.

So, what are the basic types of sensory stimuli? They include appearance, color, odor, taste, touch, flavor, texture (eyes and mouthfeel). A recent addition is umame, which is a savory profile or more of a synergy of flavors. It’s part of what MSG is, but MSG had such a negativism that now they’ve changed the flavor’s name.

The physiology of taste comprises of sensations perceived through receptors on the tongue. In a classical sensory evaluation format, you would use salty for NACl, sugar for sweet, citric acid for sour, and caffeine for bitter.