Taste Panels Guide the Development
of the Foods We Eat
August 29, 2009, Donald Petty Sr., Research scientist and international snack food manufacturing consultant
Research Taste Panels and Consumer Taste Tests
Guide Food Product Development of
the Tasty Foods You Buy and Eat
Major food companies are guided by consumer input. It is cheaper and more
efficient for informative taste testing to be done before products are mass produced
and marketed. Good food companies rely on "educated tongues" of trained tasters.
When companies put products on the market that have not been 'approved' by the consumer the public response may be that they simply do not buy them. The
produced but unsold goods are total losses, and represent one of the weaknesses of a company activity that costs the most money.
The pre-marketed taste panels guide research and development scientists and technicians in their product development. These panels depend on the tasting skills
of individuals, usually a minimum of 30 people for statistically accurate results.
"Statistically significant panel results," an almost 'revered term' in edible product development, make it possible for a researcher to move forward getting a product to
market. The panelists are trained, tested, and found to be sensitive to one or more of the basic types of flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
The tongue has areas on its surface, which are sensitive or responsive to these
flavors to varying degrees. Some people are more sensitive to the sour notes, some
to the salty ones, some to sweet and bitter.
Some "tongues" are highly sensitive to a number of flavor stimuli. Naturally these are more valuable panelists to a company. Their tongue thus becomes a tool of work,
making them better equipped for certain tasks.
A NEW SENSORY IMPRESSION
Research has essentially confirmed a newer taste impression to be added to
the above original four. It is termed 'umami' which is the Japanese word for 'yummy.'
This taste is one of a beefy-vegetable sensation, significantly unlike the other four.
The Japanese chemists working on this project determined that the flavor derives
its basic impact from glutamic acid. You will likely identify that chemical as the major component in mono-sodium glutamate, yes, MSG, the popular flavor enhancer.
This delicious new flavor, defined in 2002, has added a new horizon of taste in
the effectiveness and accuracy of taste panel results.
AN "OILY" SENSORY IMPRESSION
With foods containing the edible oils it is important to recognize an optimum
oil level for the best (1) taste, (2) 'mouth feel' and (3) tongue-coating properties
imparted by the oil.
Panelists are trained to detect these three characteristics of oil-bearing foods,
as well as the other four, even five. As with the other 'five' taste sensations, oiliness
is a desirable quality. Certain panelists are far better than others in detecting the
correct oil content of a food, for example, in a potato chip or a corn chip.
They are trained in the same way for this flavor sensation, that is, by tasting
a series of samples with varying levels of oil in the food and then being able to
distinguish them from each other. The test is validated by their being able to repeat
the test duplicating the same results.
Some food scientists and researchers believe the 'oily taste' should be included
as a separate sensory taste, but have yet to agree on the precise area of the tongue
that detects oil.
The more the researcher learns about the perceptions of taste using our very
versatile and extremely important and useful 'tongues,' and the better trained our
food taste panelists become, the more enjoyable our foods will be.