This year’s Institute of Food Science Technology (IFST) Sensory science conference was held in London last week on a typical British summer’s day (it was cold and wet!). However, the grey weather didn’t deter the 40+ people who attended a great day of learning about various challenges and solutions in the sensory and consumer industry.
I myself have been a part of the exciting world of sensory and consumer research for about seven years, and I’m no stranger to the many different challenges our industry faces. This conference was a great opportunity to get even more insight into what some of our clients and other practitioners may need to consider when using their sensory panel or conducting consumer research.
A great example of this was presented by Dr. Frances Jack, a Senior Scientist at the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute (SWRI). They have the challenge of testing beverages with high alcohol content. Now, it may not sound like much of a challenge, testing drinks like scotch and gin, but there are many things they have to consider when running their sensory panel. The strength of alcohol in the product lends itself to a high carry-over effect and there is a large risk of sensory fatigue. This can lead to an excess of sensory “noise”, where the complex flavour characteristics can be muffled by the presence of alcohol. There are also the ethical and safety elements to consider, such as units consumed per week and the strict legislation on drinking and driving. At the SWRI they have developed plans to complete sensory testing as efficiently and safely as possible. The panel sips and spits rather than consuming the products, and they incorporate appropriate breaks between samples and panel sessions.
One of the other hot topics discussed was about genetics and how it affects our liking. There has been a lot of interesting research being done by Lisa Methven and her students at the University of Reading about how particular genotypes affect our perception of certain basic tastes. To add to that, there has also been research on how the thermal taste phenotype affects our acceptability of cola. So maybe ‘personalised’ food products are coming sooner than we think!
In the afternoon, we learnt about the challenges of consumer testing from an ethical point of view and looked at how portion size can affect consumer perception. We also discussed the challenges when conducting a consumer test, such as number of samples, sample carry over, portion size, time of the study, ethics (salt and fat intake for example), and consumer motivation. I also had the pleasure of testing five cereal bars; maybe being a panellist isn’t as easy as I thought!
It was great day and, as always, it was nice to connect with other members from the industry. If you are not a member of the IFST, there is a great opportunity at the moment for food science and technology professionals to get joint membership for IFST and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
I am now looking forward to going to Dijon, France for Eurosense in September to find out first hand, the challenges of testing French wine! I hope to see you there.