‘Tasting the Future in Sensory and Consumer Science’ - E3S Annual Symposium

Acting as representatives of the IFST Sensory Science Group, Stephanie Mitchell and Carol Raithatha attended the European Sensory Science Society (E3S) General Assembly which was held in Milan in May 2019. Here they report on the Symposium held the next day which was organised by the host organisation - the Italian Sensory Science Society.

The symposium brought together speakers from industry and academia to explore future directions for sensory and consumer science with a focus on age, gender, and cross-cultural issues. Although all the speakers had some sort of European link or background, there was a distinct global feel to the proceedings.

Wender Bredie (University of Copenhagen) and Lisa Methven (University of Reading) both focused on age:

  • Wender discussed food preferences from early life to the very old. An interesting topic raised was conditioning mechanisms that can affect food preferences, including mere exposure, consequence learning, and flavour to flavour learning. Changes in preference in a range of areas can occur over the life span. For instance, infants like smoother foods with few particles, while adults like some texture, but the elderly may move back to ‘liking’ softer foods as they begin to suffer problems with dentition and swallowing.
  • Lisa introduced the potential benefits of creating nutritionally enhanced foods for the elderly (for cognition and bone and muscle strength), but also the potential pitfalls when fortification creates a food or drink that might be difficult for the elderly to eat and/or be unpalatable. Smell or taste loss can add to the problem. Food trends need to be carefully examined with respect to the frail and elderly – for example the current move towards plant foods as compared to a diet that includes protein from animal products could be counterproductive for an older person suffering from muscle wastage.

Sara Spinelli (University of Florence) discussed the theoretical perspectives and implications of taking gender into account for sensory sciences. She started her talk by reminding us that sex (male vs female) is a biological definition, whereas gender (man vs woman) is socio-cultural. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”. Sensory and consumer research is unusually gender sensitive – we use balanced samples, study gender as subgroup, and investigate gender effect. It is arguably the variable that has the largest impact on sensory response and food preferences.  Sara also reminded the audience that there are also within gender differences that can be important.

Monica Borgogno (Merieux Nutritional Sciences) gave a useful talk about the opportunities and challenges in cross-cultural studies. She introduced a flow chart of a cross-cultural study, noting critical control points (CCPs) in the following areas:

  • Define objective
  • Share information and communicate
  • Select product
  • Method
  • Recruitment
  • Questionnaire
  • Translation (Be careful - she mentioned how a funny case is that uno refers to one in many cultures, but in Finland it literally means garbage!)

When analysing data from cross cultural studies she advised the following steps:

  • Validate no country bias in method before analysis
  • In country analysis
  • If there is no country interaction merge data and evaluate globally

Moreover, some interesting cross-cultural themes were also highlighted in Jean-Xavier Guinard’s (UC Davis) presentation about sensory, culinary and marketing strategies for dietary change. Jean-Xavier introduced research and successful strategies based around the flexitarian flip (substituting some proportion of animal-based ingredients for plant-based ones) and the dessert flip (adding fresh fruit to desserts to decrease percentage of other higher calorie ingredients). The Blended Burger (where mushrooms are blended with beef within the burger) is an example of the flexitarian flip in action. Cultural issues can affect formulation strategies for flips, such as whether to use spiciness as a tool or not.

In addition to the excellent line up of oral presentations, the symposium featured a great flash poster session and competition from PhD students across Europe. The audience was treated to four engaging presentations: the ability of children to identify the basic tastes in unfamiliar foods, new measurement tools for determining sensitivity to hardness, researching cocktails in context, and using Flash profile to characterise traditional products.

The day ended with an announcement that the next (2020) E3S General Assembly and Symposium will be held in Helsinki – delicious cinnamon buns and beautiful scenery here we come!