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Sensory analysis is the measurement of consumer responses to sensory stimuli. It is used in grading, consumer preferences, quality assurance, shelf life testing, product development and research. The food industry probably has the greatest number of sensory analysts ranging from specialist wine, beer, and tea tasters to researchers investigating how consumers perceive flavors and textures. Sensory analysts also work in the cosmetics, toiletries and household care products industries.
To understand why sensory evaluation is so important, it is vital to understand the role taste and smell play in the consumers’ perception of a product. Taste (flavor) and smell (odor) can evoke complex psychological and physiological reactions. “Flavor is a sensory perception that results from a combination of: olfactory sensations elicited by volatile substances in the nasal and the retronasal cavity; gustatory sensations of soluble substances on the taste buds; and feelings such as heat, pungency, or cooling, elicited by the trigeminal nerve.” Unlike odors, tastes do not fuse or blend to form new qualities; rather, they combine to keep their identities. Essentially, flavors are sensory perceptions that result from a combination of smell and taste. The contribution of taste to flavor is actually very small. When smell is impaired, flavor impulses can no longer be detected. It has been well recognized that flavor is of dominant importance to food acceptance or rejection. Flavors that generate pleasant or unpleasant associations can directly influence the acceptability of a product.
The two most important factors for obtaining successful sensory evaluation results are panelist selection and test types. Panelist selection is key to obtaining useful sensory results. Although both in-house and outside panelists can be used, each has advantages and disadvantages. Purpose of the tests and the current stage of product development must be considered. For initial screening, many companies use their own employees. To avoid biased results, product developers and those close to the project are disqualified as panelists. An initial screening by in-house panelists can help identify attribute and acceptability differences. Such panelists are useful for evaluating ingredient substitutions or changes in processing or packaging. Advantages of utilizing in-house consumer testing include its low cost and quick results. In addition, more samples can be evaluated at one time, and panelists are already familiar with the product being tested. In-house screening usually involves from 30 to 50 panelists per test session.
Outside consumer testing is best when a product is targeted to specific demographic groups such as age, gender, income, ethnicity or geographic area. Unbiased consumers are the ultimate test panelists for decisions related to product launch. However, outside consumer testing does have its disadvantages. It is more costly, and fewer samples may be presented at one time. There is also a greater chance for panelists to misunderstand test procedures. For an outside test session, a minimu
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Binger, L.A., P.R.,
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