E‑sensory for food and beverage producers

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.

17 September 2020 •

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.

Almost.

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

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.

Guy on skateboard

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?

True.

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.

YouTube video

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.

Read more!

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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