Taste experts in the sensory lab

How TÜV SÜD’s experts test the sensual qualities of food

What does a proper Spekulatius taste like? The sensory assessors at TÜV SÜD know – they’ve had taste training.
Photo: TÜV SÜD

Seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing: TÜV SÜD employees rely on their five senses – for the benefit of the consumer.

At TÜV SÜD’s sensory laboratory, flavors are put to the test: Does this resemble the fragrance of rose? Does that test strip smell like papaya? Trained sensory assessors determine, for example, which producer best brings out the flavor of coffee.

Sensory analysis or evaluation is a scientific discipline in which the five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing – are utilized on the basis of statistical analysis.
Besides product testing, TÜV SÜD offers sensory analyses, as well. This helps producers ensure that, in addition to being safe and functional, their devices deliver high-quality, flavorful drinks and food for an enjoyable sensory experience, explains Julia Paul, the director of TÜV SÜD’s sensory lab. Sensory analysis is becoming increasingly popular in the food industry. That’s reason enough to expand TÜV SÜD’s portfolio to include procedures to verify this important aspect of product quality.  

The lab’s sensory assessors must not only be able to identify the foods behind certain tastes, Julia Paul says, but they also “have to learn how to distinguish between flavor concentrations.” There is a norm for base flavors, which determines how basic tastes are defined: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.

Prospective sensory assessors have to learn how to distinguish between flavor concentrations.

If a type of coffee is deemed to be too bitter by TÜV SÜD’s sensory assessors, the coffee machine manufacturer may be to blame. For taste comparison, the coffee is brewed by hand, which brings out its true flavor.

Most major food manufacturers have their own team of sensory assessors. They determine such issues as “best before” dates and are involved in developing the taste of new products. So far, taste testing at TÜV SÜD’s sensory lab is subsumed under product usability testing and is therefore based on the German Food and Feed Code. But Andrea Biehler, Julia Paul, and her team are already working on getting an extensive flavor certification program off the ground.