Turn flavor complexity into product likeability

by Jeff Gelski
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Rosemary and olive oil Triscuit
Rosemary and olive oil Triscuits are an example of how aromatics may be harmonious.

SAVANNAH, GA. — People may notice that sugar has been reduced in a reformulated product and still have a strong likeability for the product, said Suzanne Pecore, a sensory consultant for P&D Consulting. That’s one example of how flavor complexity in sensory testing may differ from descriptive analysis, she said in an Oct. 24 presentation at the AACC International annual meeting in Savannah.

Ms. Pecore previously worked for General Mills, Inc. She said the Minneapolis-based company once used flavor complexity with a trained sensory panel to test a product with 30% to 40% sugar reduction. The panelists noticed the sugar reduction, but their overall liking for the product remained about the same when compared to the control product.

Suzanne Pecore, P&D Consulting
Suzanne Pecore, sensory consultant for P&D Consulting

“The explanation for that perhaps comes from the complexity issue,” Ms. Pecore said. “So we have a balance and blend that actually increased in the reduced sugar (option). So our theory is that in the control perhaps the sweetness in there is overpowering.”

The original product actually may have been too sweet, she said.

Descriptive analysis, a more common practice used by trained sensory panels, may be limited in that it focuses solely on description and quantification, she said. Flavor complexity takes a different approach. It looks at how flavors and characteristics work together in a finished food or beverage.

Ms. Pecore said that when she worked at General Mills, the company introduced three new terms for its flavor complexity strategy.

Spaghetti with spaghetti sauce
Spaghetti sauces may become more blended a day after their creation, making their flavors even more enjoyable.

Harmonious, the first term, refers to how the aromatics detected by sensory panelists make sense together and complement one another. She gave rosemary and olive oil Triscuits as an example of how aromatics may be harmonious.

Before the new Triscuits variety was launched, “I would not have rated that very harmonious, but today I love rosemary and olive oil Triscuits,” she said. “So today I would say it’s very harmonious.”

Balance, the second term, refers to people perceiving aromatics equally. The aromatics in a product are equally intense. No one flavor dominates.

Blended is the third term.

Chex Mix varieties
Blended might not work in some products, such as Chex Mix.

“If it’s not very blended, you hear people saying words like, ‘It’s very spiky,’“ Ms. Pecore said. “One flavor comes in and goes away. Another flavor comes in and goes away.”

Slow-cooked foods may have strong, positive blended traits. Casseroles and spaghetti sauces may become more blended a day after their creation, making their flavors even more enjoyable.

Blended might not work in some products, however. Ms. Pecore gave Chex Mix as an example.

“The acceptance of that product is based on all those wonderful different tastes and different experiences the consumer has,” she said. “You wouldn’t want a harmonious, blended experience.” 
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