Sensory Food Testing Party
Posted by by Peter Kuhr, product development manager
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I recently noticed a line of small plates, platters and glasses for serving very small tasting sized portions of food. This interested me because in my position as product development manager at Lunds and Byerly’s, tasting is what we do everyday. You ask yourself, what do the development chefs at Lunds & Byerly’s taste? Depending on which new products we are developing which can range from fresh deli sandwiches to frozen soups and entrees, to bakery pies and breakfast rolls to chicken Dijon in our meat departments and asparagus risotto in the frozen case, we taste and test our ideas at every stage of the process.
From the conceptual bench tests which is simply to create the best version of an concept based on a variety of parameters such as customer market preference, taste, aroma, appearance, cost and target shelf life. This stage can go on for quite some time especially if we are trying different ingredients or trying to balance nutrients such as sodium or fat or the flavor senses of salty, bitter, sweet, hot, acid or Umami. We dig into the details of our food attributes so our customers will get products that deliver the quality we stand behind day in and day out. I love the stories you hear about the products that never make it to the marketplace because they were really out there or really bad. This brings to mind broccoli flavored chewing gum-not so much. As chef developers, we love it when our first iterations yield the results we are looking for, but that is a rare occasion. The key to success in the product development field is having solid culinary experience, an open mind, willingness to experiment and most important, have an understanding of what our customers are shopping for and expect when they find it.
There is a real art form to tasting food from a sensory evaluation standpoint. We perform blind tastings whereby we place similar products but do not show the brand, type, or recipe variation and instead provide a identification label of A, B,C… so on. We also provide an evaluation card that rates the items by offering a choice of different answers such as; fantastic, just OK or never eating that again. We use this form of rating for a series of attributes such as; appearance, aroma, taste, texture, you can put in whatever attributes you find interesting. You could have a lot of fun here, say you are sampling different apples, use the wine tasting approach and use attributes like, notes of apricot, crispness or tartness or sweetness, crunch factor, skin thickness, you get the idea. Since it’s a party add some unusual attributes: for chips: crunch factor, dip-ability. We also like to add a comment box for each column for the testers to fill in any special notes that might help. Consider offering your guest at your next tasting party this type of testing format. The real fun is when you read back the cards and the comments; you never know what people will share about their personal opinions with food.