Eat with your eyes and ears: Sensory innovation beyond taste
04 Mar 2022 --- Although taste has a key role in F&B success, it is important that industry also considers other sensory attributes from appearance and texture to sound. FoodIngredientsFirst continues its conversation with key players about the best formula for desirable NPD.
Flavor may be king in driving consumer acceptability, but all the senses play a role in our enjoyment of food and drink, notes Robin Boyle, sensory manager at Kalsec.
“The notion that ‘you eat with your eyes’ is becoming increasingly important in the social media age,” adds Philippe Bernay, Cargill’s EMEA commercial marketing lead.
According to a Cargill survey of 7,481 consumers, visual appeal is the most important factor in chocolate purchase decisions for almost one in five (19%) European consumers.
Boyle explains that appearance is the decision-making attribute, and we make countless decisions each day based solely on what something looks like.
Kate Bailey, sensory scientist at Kerry, adds that this has an evolutionary cause, with appearance cueing what the product might taste like.
“For example, if products are to be accepted as meat alternatives by those who are used to eating meat, borrowing cues from familiar products can help. Plant-based burgers and sausages typically look like meat ones, and it is important that they mimic properties of meat, such as a color change on cooking.”
Similarly, with dairy alternatives, appearance, such as a color that is unexpected – too yellow or too grey, for example – or a perceived texture that seems too watery, thin or even too firm, can put people off even trying them.
Avoiding sensory dissonance
Boyle also highlights the importance of visual cues. “Imagine if you ordered a cola and it was served without carbonation. Before ever putting the glass to your lips, you would know something is wrong with it.”
Similarly, someone would likely be surprised if a red-colored piece of candy tasted like oranges instead of raspberry – regardless of whether or not they like citrus flavors.
Bailey boils it down to sensory dissonance. In everyday language, this means when you are expecting one thing and get something else – this can lead to a disproportionate sense of disappointment or downright dislike of a product.
Cargill’s Bright White chocolate, which is whiter than traditional white chocolate, is an example of a product that was created for its eye-catching visual appeal.
Dr. Isabelle Jaouen, R&D director at Alland & Robert, also emphasizes the importance of colors, noting that as all hues are different, the viewing process and preferences differ for each person.
The coloring of a visual can negatively impact consumers’ propensity to eat it, she explains.
“The human brain has reflexes. For example, the color blue is not very common in nature and isn’t traditionally associated with an increase in food desire.”
Jaouen continues that beyond this analysis, every human builds their own color appreciation. “We associate colors with sense memories, and they can trigger a desire or a distaste for some food.”
Cracking the code
Sound also influences the perception of food and drink. Ana Ridao, R&D manager at Lactosan LATAM, goes as far as to suggest that certain sensory attributes are synonyms for certain food categories.
“For example, the name ‘cheese crackers’ combines the sound created while munching the thin layers of this bakery product, paired with the name of one of the oldest natural flavoring agents known to humankind.”
She continues that enhancing crispness on a cracker or biscuit has always been regarded as a quality improvement. However, it’s “unthinkable” to include a crunchy texture in products such as puddings, pound cakes or burger patties, to name a few.
Boyle also emphasizes that auditory inputs contribute to food enjoyment. “Think about the crunch you hear when you bite into a potato chip, the crunchy sound when you chew cornflake cereal or the sizzle of a steak on a hot barbeque grill, for example.”
Spotlight on texture and mouthfeel
Texture and mouthfeel are other key aspects of consumers’ experiences with F&B. Bailey explains that the texture of food helps to define and characterize it – once it’s been liquidized, most people find it much more difficult to identify.
It can also impact how much is consumed. Typically, soft or semi-soft versions of the same foods are consumed in larger quantities than firmer, chewier or more texturally complex ones and provide less satiation (the feeling of fullness when eating or drinking).
Another aspect to the sense of the feeling a food or beverage imparts in the mouth, often called “mouthfeel.”
“Examples of mouthfeel attributes include astringency, a puckering feeling often associated with tannins – think strong, black tea. Meanwhile, tingling is found in confectionery with unique sensations such as sherbet and popping candy, as well as carbonated drinks,” Bailey details.
Chasing indulgence and adventure
According to Cargill research, seven in ten consumers say texture gives food and drinks a more interesting experience. This is especially true in confectionery, where a heightened sensory experience offers a greater feeling of indulgence.
Ridao also notes that cookies and crackers must be “cracklier” than ever. “Texture and hard bite are synonyms for freshness and a source of indulgence for those who ‘eat with their ears,’” she continues.
Pinpointing the source of textures, Clémence Leotard, sensory specialist research & development at Cargill, explains that particle size determines either a smooth or coarse experience in chocolate.
Applications where coatings are important (such as a chocolate truffle) should have a smooth mouthfeel, while in highly texturized applications (like a cookie), this is less important because the chocolate texture is masked.
Texture closes gap in plant-based meat
Additionally, textures in meat and meat analogs have become a must, even for frozen products, notes Ridao.
“The right texture, and particularly mouthfeel, can also impact the taste and flavor delivery of the product, as well as the authenticity,” adds Bailey.
In meat alternatives, this is key to replicating the eating experience of “real meat.” Acceptability of a plant-based alternative can very much depend on the texture of the ‘new’ product and how close it is to the characteristics of the meat or dairy-based equivalent.
In the first part of this coverage, the experts explored how the senses – especially taste – drive consumer decision-making, as well as the nuances between categories.
By Katherine Durrell
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