Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, December 13, 2014


"If you are trying to make products for consumers, you have to get responses from consumers."
"People will tell you what they like and what they don't like, but getting useful guidance out of that to be able to develop a product is really challenging. It's not good enough [a common response]. One person might want a stronger flavour, one person might want less. I made a decision to try to approach it systematically."
"In pharmaceuticals, it was all about making nasty things taste tolerable."
"The one lesson that I have learned with the big consumer packaged goods companies is that they often assume that since they have been making their product forever, that they know all there is to know about their product and their brand equity will trump everything else."
Chris Findlay, food scientist, founder of Compusense Inc., Guelph

Squash, Pomegranate & Kale Salad {vegan recipe}

Squash, Pomegranate & Kale Salad

And so, people with very refined taste buds are hired as taught professionals to do what machines cannot; determine the taste and texture and aroma that will inform giant corporations producing food products how they should best adjust their practises for greater consumer satisfaction resulting in increased popularity and sales, benefiting their bottom line.

People go to work in a tasting laboratory which is dimly lit, so as not to distract these professionals from their work. These experts are seated in row at their stations to think about their sensory perceptions related to food products; how the product looks, smells, tastes, feels. Theirs is a rigorous process, their training is to deconstruct the experience of eating foods most consumers take for granted.

They make use of iPads to enter data, ranking for example root vegetables on 44 identified properties all related to aroma, flavour, texture. Are the test food objects sweet? Metallic tasting? Do they smell starchy or damp or root-like? What do they taste like? Consumer sensory testing is a new field to try to better understand the human palate.

The founder of this new food-tasting-testing science was trained as a chemist working in the pharmaceutical industry before setting his future as a pioneer in food science. Flavour resides in a combination of taste and smell and their interaction on the human tongue; their interpretation can vary widely from person to person. Dissecting flavour is a demanding science.

Peppermint Chocolate Bark: 2 Ways

Peppermint Chocolate Bark: 2 Ways

Some people haven't a very acute sense of smell. People taking medication find the chemicals in the drugs can alter their palate. Roughly 30 to 40 percent of people who go through the initial training stages end up producing inconsistent results. Among the general population about 25% are considered to be "supertasters", with an above-average sense of taste.

"They are trained in objectivity like everyone else. Our ability to judge is separate from our preferences", explained Mr. Findley. Chili peppers, for example; One panel tasting the peppers of Mexican origin, another panel represented by Caucasian Americans. The Mexican panel enjoyed the hot peppers, tolerated their intense spiciness. Yet the two panels using the Compusense method arrived at an objective measure of "heat" quite similar to one another.

Ranking potatoes on a total of 52 factors related to visual appearance, aroma, flavour, 'mouth feel' and aftertaste, the level of flavours were assessed as 'earthy' and mouth-feel variations like 'waxy' or 'crumbly'.

Aside from which appearance influences taste perceptions as well; hot chocolate served in a beige mug was judged to taste sweeter by most people than the same liquid served in a white mug. Rounded chocolate vars are judged sweeter on average than those bars with square edges.

Although computer technologies are capable of detecting and measuring flavour chemicals in foods and beverages, the electronic versions unlike the human noses and tongues cannot sense what will find favour with consumers.

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