It’s quite enthralling to watch Detective Charles Boyle’s character from the famous comedy show Brooklyn Nine-Nine defining his love for ‘genuinely satisfying’ food with the help of his gifted sensory characteristics and his incredible ability to rate the overall acceptability and rank of a restaurant’s special food dish. Truly, the art of rating a food item based on various sensory parameters like taste, smell, flavour, aroma, mouthfeel and numerous other qualities which make up a food connoisseur’s review of what how good and proper dish is, is delicate as well as intriguing. This also covers identifying the aspects and suggesting near-exact methods used to prepare the dish to perfection. The amount of a particular ingredient in the food item, the time for which it was cooked, if it was cooked in the right temperature and heat, if the procedure or recipe of the item was perfectly followed, whether and if yes, what innovation was added to the dish, whether that enhanced the sensory appeal of the dish, and if yes, what particular characteristic of the added component elevates the overall score of the complete dish, how different spices blend in together to bring out a pleasant taste to the dish, how their quantity affects the palatability of food, and oodles of other intricate but important factors that come into play when we ‘sense’ a dish. Identifying and judging all these complex parameters, separating each parameter and combining different flavours that generate one bite of the food is extremely arduous. This is when sensory evaluation experts come into existence. These members are highly trained till they develop consistent and accurate results of the sensory aspects of any food item. They are expected to rate a new food product to estimate how general public’s sensory appeal to the product might be. Their ratings and scores are also helpful to spot loopholes in a food item’s recipe, design or product packaging and improve them to get a good acceptability score. Why is sensory evaluation such an important part for consumer foods? A lot goes into a dish from when a product idea is conceived in the kitchen to its design, creation and finally large-scale production for commercial consumption. Thus, its sensory properties are critical in establishing its potential and continued success, apart from brand and product acceptance and outreach in the market. A sensory panel performs objective tests for the evaluation of sensory attributes of a food item.

What is sensory evaluation?

According to an article in Nature journal, ‘Sensory evaluation is a science that measures, analyses, and interprets the reactions of people to products as perceived by the senses.’ Another article in Elsevier defines it as ‘a systematic study of human response to physico-chemical properties which make it possible to obtain information about the sensitivity of human sense and about the four dimensions of sensory perception, that are, quantitative, qualitative, temporal and hedonic dimensions.’ A sensory panel performs objective tests for the evaluation of sensory attributes of a food item. These include discriminative, descriptive, scoring, preference, sensitivity tests. Qualitative tests are based on aroma, appearance, flavour, oral texture, geometry, fat content characteristics, while quantitative tests follow descriptive panels to measure a product’s sensory characteristics and are preferential and acceptance-based.

Thus, a sensory panel is trained to be intelligent and serious, possess discriminative stimuli, express sensory perceptions verbally, work as team and be flexible and memorize sensory information. Sensory perception of a product throws light on its important but unnoticed characteristics which go a long way to make its place in the market and be liked and sought after by the common consumer for its special and peculiar attributes.

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