Taste is the most obvious of the sensory properties of food. However, smell, sound, texture and appearance can all have a dramatic impact on how appealing consumers experience your food product too.
Whilst flavour is the most essential aspect, if food doesn’t smell fresh and inviting it may never get as far as the consumer’s mouth. If it doesn’t ‘look right’ it might not be something people want to try. There are 3 distinct stages where sensory properties have an influence on the enjoyment of your food product.
The impact of sensory properties on selection
When selecting products, appearance and smell are what potential buyers mainly have to tell them whether it’s something they’d like to try. Does the food smell fresh, does it look the proper colour, shape or consistency? Should it appear dry, moist or oily – or definitely not?
You need to ensure that sauces are smooth and not lumpy, that feature ingredients maintain their shape and look as they should and that the overall colours are correct. Even a small deviation from what consumers expect can lead to them being ‘turned off’ your food. It might look burnt, overcooked, stale, unnatural or even undercooked. Maintaining the appeal requires careful management of the production process and ingredient choice.
On the way to the mouth
When the food is on the way to the consumer’s mouth – either when they’re about to eat it or even when they’re sampling it – aroma is crucial. Research has even found that aroma has a direct effect on how nourishing people find food. The more intense the aroma, the smaller the size of bite that people take – something that should be of great interest to those offering weight-loss focused products.
Appearance still plays a part but now they will get a much more up close view of the food. Does it look too flaky or grainy? Does it hold together well? Again, this is about how well the food product development process delivers your product. Have you got your recipe, process and finishing right?
In the mouth
When food is in the mouth, sensations such as sound and texture really come into play. Does the food have the right amount of crunchiness or smoothness by the time it’s being eaten?
Texture will actually impact on how the flavour of your food is released in the mouth. It is likely to require some experimentation to get the ‘in the mouth’ experience right. Too smooth and it might be considered bland, too much texture and it might detract from the taste.
Achieving the right texture requires an understanding of the structures and functions of your ingredients. Do they combine well or do they need other ingredients to help the overall recipe work? Is one of your food’s other requirements (nutrition or shelf-life, for example) dictating your choice of ingredient? Could you be constructing your recipe in a different way?
Finding the right balance
For a food development professional, the challenge is to find the right balance between all these factors. Combining the right ingredients and finding the right way of processing them leads to a good sensory experience. If you know what your full range of ingredient options are and how they can be combined, you can create appealing food that really delivers on the shelf and in the mouth.