Everyone who joins Marketing Sciences has the opportunity to be sensory profiled to see if they are lucky enough to fall into the minority of the general population who have ‘super senses’, so a group of us set off for the Westerham Sensory facility recently to get our senses tested! It also gave us the chance to check out the new state of the art facilities and to get to know our colleagues who work there, as well as those who make up our sensory panel.
The day started with a tour of the specialised kitchen as well as the two dedicated profiling rooms. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the environment and layout of these rooms to eliminate the influence of any external factors during profiling, such as air quality and lighting. They are also laid out in such a way that the panellists cannot be influenced by one another.
We were then taken through the ins and outs of sensory research and how it is best used. For example, it can be used when the ingredients in a product have been tweaked. Our sensory panellists, who are able to detect the most subtle of changes, can then identify how that change in ingredients has impacted the finished product. Each member of the panel has been through rigorous testing for a minimum of six months before they start working on research projects and are in the top 10% of the population for heightened senses! Panellists are then continually monitored for quality and consistency against other panel members.
After learning about the theory behind sensory research, the time then came for us to be tested!
We started off by tasting small quantities of clear, flavoured liquid. Each liquid was flavoured to taste like one of the 5 basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami). The liquids we were initially given were labelled with the taste so we could sample them and familiarise ourselves with the 5 flavours. We were then given more unlabelled, clear, flavoured liquid, each of which we had to identify if it was sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami.
After this taste test, we ranked the strength of five cheeses, the sweetness of five liquids and a spot the difference of fizzy drinks and crisps (known as a triangle test). To test our sense of smell, we were given a variety of small bottles with varying aromas in them and had to identify what they each were. Along with these practical tests, we were also tested on our vocabulary when describing foods and our ability to rank, in order, the areas of different shapes. As challenging as these were, they were only a small part of what our sensory panellists go through to become fully fledged panel members. Where we were mainly tested on our sense of taste and smell, the panellists are tested on four of the five senses (sight, smell, taste and touch).
This was a great day out of the office and a fun way to learn about the world of sensory and the hard work that goes into ensuring the conditions are just right for sensory research. We offer this first-hand experience of our sensory facility to interested parties, so do get in touch if you, or anyone you know, would be interested!Subscribe