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.