The importance of sensory – facts and myths debunked
By John Placko
As a chef, I’ve always been aware of the importance of sensory, and my interest peaked when I worked for large food companies and ultimately when my passion for molecular cuisine engulfed my career.
I met John Hale about four years ago and was fascinated by his depth of knowledge on the subject of sensory, so I approached him to collaborate on this article. John has worked for large multinationals and grocery chains in the U.K., Europe and Asia before settling in Canada. He recently started a consulting business with a number of seasoned professionals with complementary skills.
Let’s start with the five basic senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. When creating dishes that are known as molecular cuisine the aim is to hit all five senses to deliver a memorable eating experience.
A taste bud generally lives for 14 days before dying off and being replenished. As people get older replenishment is not as quick and thus the person loses their sense of taste. One of the ways to enhance the taste satisfaction is to use more herbs and spices in food for the elderly. However, eating spicy food is not the answer to helping them enjoy their food.
Did you know that people have different levels of sensitivity to the perception of taste? There are three categories of tasters: non-tasters, average tasters and super tasters. Super tasters in Canada account for approximately 25 per cent of the population, with women outnumbering men, although in the U.K. the per cent of super tasters is around five per cent because of the effect of their spicy diet. Super tasters are key to the evaluation process of recipe development because if they can’t taste a difference between two products, how could the masses detect the difference? Sensory panels use super taster when an expert panel is called for.
Average tasters account for approximately 50 per cent of the population, and non-tasters for the remaining 25 per cent. A trained consumer panel will consist of a blend of average tasters and super tasters, but small-scale panels would never use non-tasters. In large scale panelling where the consumer panel is not screened, there could be as much as 25 per cent of the panel that cannot taste, which is why the number of tasters is large to account for this variance.
To see what kind of taster you are, buy a pack of PTC paper strips. Place a strip on your tongue. A super taster will have a reaction within a millisecond while a non-taster tastes nothing.
Now let’s turn our attention to the five key elements used when evaluating food on a sensory panel of trained tasters: appearance, aroma, flavour, texture and aftertaste.
In my next column I’ll cover sensory topics such as the type of sensory panel you should use, the kind of results different tests will give, and how to report your results. For more information about John Hale visit www.halefood.com
John Placko is culinary director of Toronto’s Modern Culinary Academy. Contact him at [email protected] or visit www.ModernCA.caThis article appeared in the print issue:January/February 2014 edition, A Culinary Odyssey section