How to find a effective sensory attribute


To employ the category name is not able to help you on the decision for your product

We found that the question that industrial folks asked the most frequent is how to identify the sensory attributes in my product in our experience on consulting sensory analysis for the past 25 years. The most employed sensory attributes are the appearance, odor, flavor, texture, mouthfeel (the ones that we called as group categories for sensory perceptions) even in the most of scientific papers published in Taiwan. These group categories are not the proper sensory attributes that we refer to. To employ the category name is not able to help you on the decision for your product since you are not able to know whether sweetness or sourness of the product as different panelists refer to as they all are so called flavor. So, how should we identify the proper sensory attribute in our product?

Copy the sensory attribute does not help you either

Recently, several product professionals stated to us that they want to set up a XX flavor profile after they saw coffee flavor wheel, wine flavor wheel, cola flavor wheel, chocolate flavor wheel that published in international published reference as well. Most of them quitted after we asked how much cost that you do want to put on this kind of project. They did not realize it will be a huge project when you need to employee most of the products on the market in the same category for the sensory analysis together. Think about how many tea species in Taiwan when you refer to that to set up a Taiwan tea flavor wheel. You may say that we only do the Oolong tea, well, then how many different Oolong teas in Taiwan? Of course, a commercial unit can define the flavor wheel for its own product. The same philosophy, the profile produced by others may not be suitable for your product unless your purpose is to replace the competitor with yours directly.

Therefore, to find your own sensory attributes for your own product is necessary. You will want to know whether your new developed protype meet the expected criteria as you design the target during your RD process. You also will need to know whether you indeed work on the critical sensory index of your product during your QA/QC process. You also will want to know whether your product possess any unique attributes that over the product of your competitor during your marketing process.

So, it is critical for you to find the sensory attributes for your own product.

Let us to look at the searching sensory attributes from another angle. Have you ever thought about why there is guidance for the sensory methodology in ISO standards while there is no guidance for the sensory reference sample in this era of talking standard and SOP on everything? This means it is not proper to have one standardized reference for all over the world. You, however, can find the 8 principles on defining to search a proper sensory attributes in ISO guidance 5492:2008.

We induce the 8 principles into 3 critical ones to be a proper sensory attributes:

  1. be relevant:the attribute should be relative to the issue or critical to the purpose of sensory test. Ex : the color of a coffee drink is not critical to a coffee drink.
  2. be quantifiable:the attribute should be measurable (we mean can be measured by panelist) for objective sensory intensity or subjective sensory preference degree. If it could not be perceived by panelist, then it is not a proper sensory attribute even it can be detected by an instrument.
  3. be reference supportive:the attribute should be represented by a proper reference sample and can be communicated with each other among the panelists.

Generally, the sensory attributes can be categorized into 6 categories for all foods and drinks:

1.appearance (visual);2.odor(smelling);3.taste(tasting);4.flavor in oral (smelling+tasting);5.texture(tactile);6.aftertaste(tasting/smelling/tactile)

The key steps for searching sensory attributes are:

  1. Realize what critical sensory attributes your customer care about and that affect their decisions (including positive and negative ones) no matter you want to apply the sensory tests for your RD/QC/marketing application.
  2. Confirm with your panelists (trained or untrained) that they can perceive the attributes.
  3. Employ the reference sample to communicate with your panelists for certain attribute.
  4. Make sure the attribute is repeatable (the panelists can recognize on different days/replications).
  5. Confirm the attribute is a single term not a group term. It is believed that you can find proper sensory attributes for your product with these 5 steps.

We do have a database of sensory attributes that we accumulated for more than 25 years for those who want to take a reference, though we do not recommend directly as it may not practical enough for your own case.