Keen palate – a super taster

different tastes

How FSF use Sensory Attributes in New Product Development

Sensory analysis (including being a super taster) can be used for quality control, determining shelf life, gauging the readiness for product launch, assessing product success, flavour profiling, and identifying the attributes driving consumer preferences.

The Basics

The 4 sensory organs used to carry out these steps are first the eyes and nose then of course the mouth. Surprising to many, the ears also play an important role.

The eyes

The phrase “you eat with your eyes” is proved true time and time again.

If a dish is prettily presented it attracts the consumer to consume, this is why the skill and art of food photography is so highly valued to sell magazines, recipes and menus. How many times have you looked around a restaurant and ordered what someone else has just been served because it looks nice?

The nose

Then the smell, a pleasing aroma depends on what the product is and at what point the aroma is released.

The mouth

Then the palate, the mouth with its lips to hold the food in, the teeth to masticate, saliva to start the digestion and the tongue to both move the food or drink to the teeth and down the throat and to convey the flavour perception through the taste buds to the brain.

Then the nose comes back in, as you have taste buds at the base of your nose which pick up the after taste as you swallow.

The ears

The sound that food makes when you cut or break it before you put it in your mouth and the sound it makes while you chew affects your satisfaction and liking of a product. The sound from chewing resonates on your jaw and so the vibrations are heard internally.

The noise of you eating affects others around you too and their enjoyment, or not, of eating with you but that does not affect your enjoyment of the product.

How Ruth uses sensory analysis in Product Development and Applications

Keen palate

I have always had what is known as a “keen palate” from the start I was taught to identify which ingredients had been used to construct a dish. At Tante Marie School of Cordon Bleu I learnt the classic way to produce and present culinary dishes for the table. When studying Home Economics and through decades of experience across the food industry, with different settings, colleagues and courses I have learnt about the effects of physical and chemical changes that occur due to point of shelf life, mechanics of production and logistics.

Flavour memory

When working as Company Home Economist at GW Padley [both Poultry and Vegetables] I had colleagues experienced in both production and flavours. There we worked on taking classic dishes into new formats in a factory setting to deliver new products. It was my role to define the essence of the dish that must make it through to the final product. It is key to enabling scale up and scale back in production. It was Sharon who told me that I had a flavour memory. I was surprised, I thought everyone could remember a flavour combination once tasted and tell if it had changed days, weeks, months later. It has been tested many times since then and saved many clients tens/hundreds of £K’s.

Super Taster and Thermal Taster

More recently, I worked with Eminate Ltd, a spin-out from the University of Nottingham. As we were based at Sutton Bonington I got to work with the amazing Sensory Scientists amongst many other departments. They were carrying out studies on taste abilities and attributes and I ended up as a willing guineapig: They were testing for taste phenotypes, genotypes, ethnicity, gender and taste perception using Chi-square and regression tree analysis. So, along the way they swabbed my tongue to measure my sensitivity to bitter flavours with A 0.32 mM 6-n-Propylthiouracil (PROP); painted my tongue with dye and photographed it so they could count the capillaries linked to tastebuds; attached rods that both heated and cooled my tongue; and finally put a blindfold on me and get me to put small block in my mouth and asked me to about the shape and markings I could detect. SO… they then confirmed that I am a Super Taster and a Thermal Taster.

New Understanding

There is some amazing research being carried out across the world by sensory scientists. Two new attributes have been defined and given names: Umami and Kokumi plus lots of work is still being carried out on Satiety and how the gut/brain axis works to control weight and the potential interaction with genes. I can detect Umami and Kokumi.

And, very usefully, there is now a single word in common use to explain each of these taste attributes rather than the long-winded explanations previously needed.

Definitions:

Super Taster

Super Taster – someone who can taste a wider and clearer flavours. It is like seeing a bright and clear rainbow where you can pick out each band of colour separately while seeing that it is a rainbow. The practical application is that I can tell when a flavour is too dominant to achieve the desired effect written in the product brief.

Thermal Taster

Thermal taster – when my tongue is heated or cooked by the product I am tasting I can still detect the flavours in the product. Have you ever tasted ice cream straight out of the freezer? As well as the temperature triggering pain receptors, the flavours can be less distinct. The same thing occurs with hot [temperature not spiced] foods. A thermal taster can detect how temperature changes the delivery of the intended flavours.

Sensitivity V Preference

Sensitivity V Preference – liking a flavour e.g. level of sweetness or saltiness, is not the same as being sensitive to it. I have standard sensitivity levels, so I detect the basic flavours [sweet, salt, sour, bitter] at the saturation in water considered “normal”. Preference is something I keep for outside of work; it is if you like your foods sweet or salty. I had one colleague who was insensitive to salt and liked salty foods. If ever Jack said something was too salty we did not taste it, conversely, if he said it was not salty enough but the rest of the team thought it was the right level he accepted our judgement.

Umami

Umami – the savoury depth of flavour, what makes something taste rich and long lasting, not thin, weak, and quick to disappear. There are times when either is required, but now it is understood which ingredients and methods of production promote Umami.

Kokumi

Kokumi – the richness of mouthfeel and how an ingredient or recipe stays in the mouth. Something can have a sticky and clawing or a thin texture that can be either be harder to swallow or can slip down too quick, but that is different to how the flavour is perceived e.g. a rich gravy or flavour difference between a sauce enhanced with different fat level creams. These are proving important when developing vegan products or new formulations to reduce costs.

Satiety

Satiety – the feeling or state of being sated or feeling full. There are some foods that you will find fill you up quicker than others. This is a relatively new area of study. 

Super taster vs Supertaster vs Super-taster


There are three options for writing super taster:

  1. Super taster – two words
  2. Supertaster – one word
  3. Super-taster – hyphenated

Taking the easy one first 3. Super-taster (hyphenated) is not commonly used so we have discounted using that.

In this article we also discuss “thermal taster”. Since we are not proposing to write that as thermaltaster (one word) simple logic is in favour of keeping two words for both thermal and super tasting. Google provides some data that would support the use of supertaster (one word) but at this time we have elected to stick with the two word approach.