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How to Use Our Senses to Create Irresistible Products: The Role of Flavour Perception

flavour & aroma product development Jun 22, 2023
two person eating and showing their food to each other

Introduction

As a product developer, you're likely always seeking new ways to enhance your products, increase customer satisfaction, and differentiate yourself from competitors. What if the secret lies in an intriguing aspect of human nature - the nuances of flavour perception? In this blog post, we explore how flavours are perceived and gather inspiration for your next innovative project!

Check out the previous blogs where we explored the science behind aroma compounds and how they shape our food experience, and  how to master your palate using a Flavour Lexicon.

 

 

What is flavour perception?

customer tasting and smelling the vegetables at a street market

In recent years, significant progress has been made in the field of multisensory flavour perception by sensory scientists, psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists. Their discoveries at both psychological and neural levels have deepened our comprehension of how food and beverages taste, as well as why individual preferences for flavours can differ significantly. 

Indeed, a full taste experience relies on the integration of all our sensory perceptions and the cognitive interpretation of this information. Although flavour is often considered to be confined to smell and taste, countless other sensory inputs internal or external to the product itself are processed by our brain to influence our flavour perception.



Sensory perceptions: what happens when we eat/drink?

Taste

Taste relies on approximately fifty distinct taste receptor cells situated within the oral cavity. Primarily focused on the tongue, these receptors categorise tastes into sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami sensations.

In addition to the five basic tastes, the oral cavity experiences various sensations, such as spicy heat, cooling, and tingling. Previously known as a trigeminal response, chemesthesis primarily serves an evolutionary purpose by delivering a pain response to high temperatures or injuries.

The chemesthetic neurons also mediate tactile responses. One example is the astringency, this dry and rough feel in the mouth from tannins for example, which can also cause a tightening effect in the cheeks and facial muscles.

 

Smell

Olfaction occurs when volatile aroma compounds present in food or drink interact with olfactory receptors in our nasal cavity. There are two types of olfaction: orthonasal, where aroma compounds directly enter the olfactory region through the nose as one sniffs a food or drink, and retronasal, where aroma compounds enter from the oral cavity as we eat or drink. 

The sense of smell is a complex phenomenon, as it must handle intricate food and drink aromas, such as nearly one thousand aroma compounds found in coffee or unidentified ones. Humans are highly sensitive to specific aroma compounds while being entirely unresponsive to many others. An individual's ability to perceive these compounds is influenced by factors such as genetic differences, olfactory exhaustion, and elements like temperature.

With a few hundred receptors capable of interacting in numerous combinations, the sense of smell has the potential to identify trillions of distinct aroma compounds. Olfactory perception possesses greater adaptability than taste perception in terms of flexibility, comprehensiveness, precision, and sensitivity.

Check out the previous blogs where we explored the science behind aroma compounds and how they shape our food experience, and how to master your palate using a Flavour Lexicon.

 

Sight

Numerous published research indicates that visual signals significantly impact sensory perception and products’ liking. A well-known example involves the difficulty people experience in accurately identifying flavoured beverages with mismatched colours, such as an orange-flavoured drink purposely coloured green.

Colours corresponding to fruit ripening stages can effectively enhance the perception of sweetness. For instance, adding the right amount of red food colouring can make beverages appear sweeter. Conversely, green-coloured food and drinks evoke associations with unripe fruits, leading to judgments of increased sourness. This information proves valuable when developing or reformulating healthier products.

However, attempts to influence people's perception of saltiness using food colouring have been unsuccessful. Since salty foods can be discovered in an extensive range of hues, the brain does not establish any connections between colour and saltiness.

Additional research reveals that ambient lighting can influence how individuals perceive a product's flavour. Experiments with wine demonstrated that cooler room lighting (leaning towards white-blue) made some wines seem spicier, fruitier, or less sweet than they were under warmer room lighting (leaning towards yellow-orange).

 

Touch

Research has demonstrated that the touch of a product or its packaging can influence mouthfeel and flavour perception. A rough or coarse texture and irregular shapes tend to accentuate stronger flavours, bitterness, saltiness, and a crunchier texture. In contrast, smooth textures or flat and round shapes emphasise sweetness and creaminess, accompanied by milder flavour intensity and crunchiness.

One study found that when crisps were packaged in polyvinyl bags instead of wax-coated paper bags, their perceived crunchiness increased. Similarly, ice cream served in bowls with sharp-edged surfaces was considered to have a more pronounced flavour.

 

Sound

Research has shown that the sounds accompanying food consumption can influence the perception of freshness and crispness in items such as crisps, biscuits, breakfast cereals, and vegetables. Similarly, an individual's perception of carbonation levels in a drink can be affected by the sounds heard while opening or pouring it.

In a separate study conducted at Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, The Fat Duck, participants reported that oysters eaten while listening to the "sound of the sea" were significantly more enjoyable than those consumed while exposed to farmyard noises.

 

Mind-body connection

Recent studies have revealed the intricate relationship between our emotional and cognitive states and the way we perceive flavours. Our expectations, memories, and emotions can all play a role in shaping our perception of taste. Positive associations with a specific food or drink can enhance its flavour, while negative experiences or feelings might diminish our enjoyment. In a subsequent blog post, we will explore how our memory and emotions influence our perception of flavours.

 


Benefits of modulating flavour perception 

Although you cannot control every environmental cue as a product developer, such as retail or home lighting, you can still influence numerous parameters to modify consumers' flavour perception. Utilising customer research and sensory science is crucial for pinpointing the ideal sweet spot that enhances your creation.

 Benefits of modulating flavour perception: 
1.Innovation and Differentiation: Experiment with internal and external cues on customers' perception to craft unique food and drink products that stand out. 2. Enhances the taste of healthier options: making nutritious products more appealing and encourages consumers to choose healthy alternatives without sacrificing taste. 3. Enhanced Consumer Experience: create products that provide a more pleasurable, memorable, fun and enjoyable experience to increase consumer satisfaction & brand loyalty. 4. Emotional Connection: evoke emotional connections that can create a deeper bond between consumers and the product, leading to increased repeat purchases. 5. Customization and Personalization: Products allowing consumers to modify or mix their flavour perception offer a tailored experience, fostering ownership and increased engagement.

 

 

Getting inspired 

The concept of blending music or soundscapes with taste experiences has gained popularity in recent years. We mentioned earlier the "Sound of the Sea" which was featured at The Fat Duck in the UK.

Stella Artois collaborated with The Roots to create an interactive music video, allowing viewers to alter the beer's flavour profile by moving their cursor, leading to either a sweeter (fruitier) or more bitter experience.

In another example, a Korean coffee shop introduced a digital form via an app for customers to indicate their taste preferences. The app would then select the most suitable coffee blend and accompanying music based on their input.



Conclusion

In conclusion, by experimenting with flavour perception and incorporating insights from sensory science, product developers can craft innovative and captivating products that not only enhance customer satisfaction and differentiate themselves from competitors but also forge emotional connections, promote healthier alternatives, and offer customised experiences, ultimately leaving a lasting impression on consumers.

 

Link to related blogs you may enjoy

🔶The Magic of Aroma Compounds: How They Shape Our Food Experience 

🔶A Journey of Flavours: How a London Food Safari Will Broaden Your Culinary Horizons 

🔶Finding Harmony in Chaos: The Art and Science of Flavour Pairing

🔶Mastering Your Palate: How to Use a Flavour Lexicon

 

References

Harold Mcgee, Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World's Smells, 2020

I.D. Fisk, Aroma release, Flavour Development, Analysis and Perception in Food and Beverages, Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition, 2015, Pages 105-123 https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9781782421030/flavour-development-analysis-and-perception-in-food-and-beverages 

J.K. Parker, Introduction to aroma compounds in foods, Flavour Development, Analysis and Perception in Food and Beverages, Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition, 2015, Pages 3-30 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9781782421030000011

The British Psychological Society, The multisensory perception of flavour, 2010 https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/multisensory-perception-flavour 

Pramudya RC, Seo HS, Hand-Feel Touch Cues and Their Influences on Consumer Perception and Behavior with Respect to Food Products: A Review. Foods, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678767/ 

Auvray, Malika & Spence, Charles,The multisensory perception of flavor. Consciousness and cognition. 2008, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6150705_The_multisensory_perception_of_flavor 

Spence, C., Levitan, C.A., Shankar, M.U. et al. Does Food Color Influence Taste and Flavor Perception in Humans?. Chem. Percept. 3, 68–84, 2010,  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12078-010-9067-z?error=cookies_not_supported&code=06da69d2-1e30-443d-b856-a49f3d5f923b 

Gary Reineccius Flavour chemistry and technology, second edition, 2006 

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Stay ahead of the game and impress your consumers with our extensive flavour, product development, and technical skills & knowledge. 

 

Discover Our Services

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