Product development • E-sensory is about measuring properties of food or beverage in order to understand how changes in the food or beverage affect the experiencing of it with the five senses – vision, hearing, feeling, smell and taste. It can be used to ensure consistency regardless of environment, culture, time, batch, raw materials or recipes.
What is e-sensory? And why should you care? If you’re wondering, you should read this article, We will try to answer these two questions.
Play on words
Literally, e-sensory consists of the prefix e followed by the word sensory. It gives a hint about what e-sensory is all about.
The prefix e stands for ‘electronic’. It should not be read literally. It rather suggests that the sensory is done digitally rather than analogue; that numbers computers are capable of storing and processing are used instead of words that describe.
The word sensory tells us that we are dealing with the science of how humans’ five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – allow us to experience things. In our industry, the focus is primarily on the experience of food and beverage, but sensory can also be about how we experience other things, such as packaging.
From what’s stated above, we can suspect e-sensory is about digitally representing the human sensations of food and beverages. Indeed, that hit the mark.
We will soon find out what ‘almost’ means. But first, we need to go back to basics and start with the meaning of the word sensory.
Sensory analysis is the scientific discipline of how the five senses of human allow us to experience things. It aims to evaluate consumers’ experiences of a product by sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. The discipline is traditionally divided into two branches:
Analytical testing intends to analytically describe the sensory properties of products with a common language. Taste profiling is a typical example. It requires education, experience and great accuracy. Human sensory testing often takes a long time and comes with a hefty price tag.
Affective testing (also known as consumer testing) aims to understand what consumers prefer and what they think about a product. Focus groups and taste panels are typical examples. As a rule, participants have no training or experience in testing. Instead, the tests rely on experimental design and statistical analysis.
This is e-sensory
E-sensory is ‘the new kid on the block’. Instead of people trying to put words on their experiences of a product, measuring instruments are used to measure properties of the product and quantify these as numbers that can be stored, compared and presented as tables, charts, pictures etc.
E-sensory is about digitally representing the human sensations of food and beverages. Almost. It is not the sensory impressions in themselves that are quantified and processed with e-sensory, but physical properties that affect how food and beverage look, sound, feel, smell, and taste.
For example, the composition of fragrances released when an application is heated up to 40 °C can be used to describe the aroma of the application. Or how many newtons necessary to compress an application; that information can be used to describe consistency.
E-sensory is not about putting figures on people’s senses of foods and beverages, but about measuring physical properties of foods and beverages and then processing and analyzing the measured data in order to understand what sensory impressions they give rise to.
Why you should care
Measuring physical properties and then processing and analyzing the collected data to understand how something tastes seems overcomplicated, to say the least. If you want to know how something tastes, just taste it. Right?
But if one strives for the same taste, regardless of environment, culture, time, batch, raw material or recipe, then e-sensory is unbeatable.
With e-sensory you can measure and quantify properties that affect the experience of a sample and store it for comparison with later samples. There are various reasons why you want to compare samples, and when e-sensory may be appropriate. Let’s go through some of them.
Independence of environment
How we experience food and beverage is affected by the environment and the situation in which we find ourselves when consuming. A splendid example of this is retsina – a Greek white wine flavoured with resin – which tastes really good with mezedes served a warm and velvety black evening at a tavern next to the shores of the Mediterranean sea, but tastes anything but good served a grey every day at home in the kitchen. Pros are also affected by the environment. Food or beverage doesn’t taste the same in the experimental kitchen as they do at the supplier. Then, an objective comparison of later samples with a sample from the supplier can help the tester to make sure that nothing has changed even though the experience is not exactly the same.
Independence of culture
Depending on where you come from, and what culture you are living in, also affects the experience. Studies show that there is a difference between taste panels from different countries/cultures even when they are trained tasters and have an established common vocabulary. A company that manufactures food at different sites that are geographically or culturally apart can use e-sensory to ensure that taste and aroma are the same regardless of where the production takes place.
Independence of time
E-sensory can also be used to prevent the taste and aroma from slowly changing over time. When consistent taste and aroma are dependent on a regular tasting and fine-tuning of the manufacturing process, there is a risk that the taste or aroma will shift over time. There are several reasons for this: Memory is short. The taster remembers how it tasted the last times and uses it as a reference, but does not remember how it tasted one, two, five, ten or twenty years ago. No matter how good and accurate one is, there are small differences from time to time, and over time they accumulate, and the difference becomes larger without anyone noticing. Changes in taste and smell due to age can also contribute to the effect, as well as staff turnover among tasters. E-sensory can counteract this shift by making the small changes visible in a diagram, which helps the tasters to refresh their memory.
Independence of batch
Batch production of foods and beverages – anything from bread to wine – often results in batchwise variations in taste, aroma, texture and appearance. E-sensory is a cost-effective way to continuously check that these variations stay within set boundaries. For example, you can compare an aroma profile with a reference profile, and as long as the measured deviation is less than a small number, the batch is ok.
Independence of ingredient availability and quality
Some types of ingredients have varying availability and quality over time. For such variations to not affect taste, aroma, texture etcetera of the product, the recipe or the manufacturing may need to be adjusted from time to time. Which is best done by humans. But e-sensory can be used to keep track of the variations alerting you when an adjustment needs to be made. It can also provide a clue as to what needs to be adjusted.
Independence of recipe
The last example is how we use e-sensory at Bayn. When a completely new recipe or formula is to be developed, but the result should be reminiscent of an existing product (own or competitor’s), e-sensory can be used to generate a ‘blueprint’ of the original product. By comparing the new product with the blueprint, differences can be identified and appropriate adjustments made.
Should robots replace humans?
Is e‑sensory capable of replacing human tasters and consumer tests? No! At the end of the day, sensory is the science of how people experience food and beverages. Therefore, human tasters and consumer testing will always be first and foremost.
But analytical testing requires educated and experienced tasters who can, in words, describe taste, aroma, appearance, texture and more. And their work requires time. If the purpose is not to describe taste, aroma and texture, but rather to compare these quantities between different samples, e-sensory can be both cheaper and faster.
Want to read more interesting articles from Bayn Magazine? We write about product development, business development but awe also do feature stories and columns.
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