From The Nutritionist


      Campbells

Sensory Science: How Our Experts Make Food Taste Great




When was the last time you were fully mindful of your eating experience? The crumble of a cookie with lingering butter flavor, the sweet and tangy taste of a hot cup of tomato soup, or the distinct smell of a tomato sauce are all examples of sensory experiences with food. Our like or dislike of a food is influenced by all of our senses—not just taste. Campbell’s sensory scientists work with our brands to make sure our food tastes great and meets people’s expectations. This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ompriya Makani, Campbell Sr. Research Scientist—Sensory & Consumer Science R&D, to learn how sensory scientists improve existing products and help develop new foods and beverages, driven by consumers’ sensory experience and feedback. Here’s our Q&A.

Williams: How do we use our senses, especially taste, to experience food?

Makani: The tasting experience involves more than just our taste buds. Our senses interact and work together when we eat. It starts with our eyes; how something looks impacts our impression of a food. The sense of smell is crucial in sensory evaluation, too. Most of what we “taste” is actually sensed by our olfactory cells within the nasal canal. If you had your nose plugged and were blind folded, you may notice that a drink is bitter and warm, but likely couldn’t differentiate coffee from black tea. Textures like grainy, chewy, dry or oily, also help us evaluate food and determine whether or not we like it. Even hearing plays a role in how we experience food and beverages. The sizzling sound of a burger on the grill or the crunch we hear as we bite into a cookie are all part of enjoying food.

Williams: Why is sensory science so important?

Makani: Sensory science drives better and faster food design that meets people’s needs. We use sensory science when we develop new products or improve existing ones. For example, a Campbell brand may want to introduce a new ingredient that delivers the same, expected flavor, while other times they want to improve the taste of a product or overall experience. Sensory evaluation helps them hit that target.

Williams: How did you become interested in sensory science work?

Makani: I was born and raised in India on my family’s farm. After my undergraduate studies in Horticulture (the science of growing fruits and vegetables), I helped my father plant, harvest, market and sell a variety of dates, but not the type you are familiar with here in the states. After a large harvest, we faced the challenge of selling 100 tons of dates in one month while maintaining quality, with limited distribution options. This influenced my decision to work on a master’s degree in Post-Harvest Management at UC Davis. My work focused on sensory and consumer evaluation of mangos from different countries in Latin America. I gained experience in how sensory research is conducted, and the different types that are used. Within a few years, my expertise brought me to Campbell, where I work with an interdisciplinary team as a senior sensory scientist.

Williams: Can you share a bit about what you do at Campbell and who you work with?

Makani: I work with product developers, marketers, nutrition experts and more within the meal, beverage, soup and sauce businesses. One of my favorite things about my job is how diverse it is. Each of the brands have a different perspective and bring unique opportunities for sensory scientists to share their knowledge.

The sensory scientists at Campbell collaborate on consumer testing and we act as a liaison between our consumers and the brands. We gather and summarize feedback from taste testers to inform any changes that could improve a product. While this work is vital to my job, my top priority is ensuring that our food and beverages deliver the taste consumers want and expect from Campbell. We recently used consumer input, taste testing and feedback for the relaunch our Well Yes!® canned soups.

Williams: What are the different types of sensory tests?

Makani: There are three main types of sensory tests we can perform with consumers at Campbell. Descriptive tests are used to determine how products differ in sensory attributes. We use this type of test to understand the similarities and differences between Campbell's® products versus our competition. For example, does our sauce taste creamier or sweeter than another brand? We use difference tests to determine whether there is a perceived difference between samples.  For example, if we wanted to lower the sodium in a product by 50mg per serving, we could use a difference test to determine if there was a perceivable difference between products. Consumer tests help us determine if consumers like the change we made. In this type of test, we already know there is a difference. We are evaluating if consumers like the product the same or even more as a result of the change we made. For example, if we changed from high fructose corn syrup to sugar, does the consumer like the product as much as before?

Williams: How can health professionals apply what you shared in their areas of practice?

Makani: Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • When working with clients to reduce negative nutrients like added sugar or saturated fats, take a stepwise approach, that slowly reduces negative nutrients over time.
  • Sensory scientists do a lot of work during recipe development to make sure products in the marketplace meet people’s expectations, and a lot of testing went into those products. Consider taste when making your recommendations, as we all need to work toward finding a balance between taste and nutrition.
  • Clients can absolutely develop a taste for something over time. For example, I hadn’t tasted an avocado while growing up in India. At first introduction, it seemed bland and unremarkable to me, but over time, it became an acquired, desired taste for me! So, keep encouraging clients to try new foods.
  • Adaptation is a decrease in response under conditions of constant stimulation that occurs with taste as well as smell. That’s why people can’t typically smell their own perfume or cologne quickly after applying it. The same holds true for sweets as nothing will be perceived sweeter than the first bite.

Cheers,

Ompriya & Kate


Ompriya’s Bio

Ompriya is a senior research scientist in Sensory & Consumer Science at the Campbell Soup Company. Born and raised on a farm, Ompriya has spent her entire life in food and agriculture. With extensive experience from farm to shelf, she is dedicated to growing and making delicious food. At Campbell, she helps meal and beverage brands delight their consumers with classic, comforting foods and new, adventurous flavors. She received her master’s degree in Horticulture, from UC Davis, with a specialization in the postharvest management of fruits and vegetables and sensory evaluation of foods. She also obtained a bachelor’s degree in applied science with an extended major in Horticulture, from the University of Queensland, Australia. When she takes a break from making food taste great, you can find Ompriya working on home improvement projects or enjoying the outdoors with family and friends. Ompriya believes strongly in self-care and chooses yoga, meditation, aerobics, or dancing for relaxation.


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En Papillote Technique

1. Prepare the parchment paper
Get a large piece of parchment paper, approximately 2.5 times as large as a single portion of food. Cut the paper into a heart shape, lightly brushing one side with oil. This creates a slight barrier to water, preventing the paper from becoming soaked too quickly. Another option, though not as attractive, is to use tin foil instead of parchment paper.

2. Select the ingredients
This is a very quick-cooking approach, so it works best with tender proteins such as fish and shellfish. The accompanying ingredients, like julienned vegetables (matchstick size), must be small enough to cook at the same rate as the fish. In some cases the vegetables can be blanched, or quickly cooked in boiling water, to ensure proper doneness. Fresh herbs will go a long way in providing flavor.

3. Assemble the packet
Lay the oiled, heart-shaped paper on a baking tray, oiled side up. Season your vegetables with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and half of the herbs. Toss them around for an even coat. Place enough for one portion on half of the paper. Bunch them up to create a bed for your fish, leaving about two inches between the food and the edge of the paper. Place the seasoned fish on the vegetables and sprinkle the remaining herbs. Add a splash of the liquid on top of the fish, just enough to add moisture.

4. Seal the packet
To seal, fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables (so it resembles a teardrop). Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge toward the center. Fold over again to create a seal. Continue along the length of the parchment, folding each section twice. When you get to the point of the heart, twist and fold to finish the seal.

5. Bake your dinner
Bake the packet in a 425°F oven for 10-14 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. The packet will puff and brown while in the oven and as the steam builds. When cooked, remove from the oven and carefully place the packet on a plate. With a knife or scissors cut an "X" on the top and fold back the edges for a dramatic presentation and a delicious, healthy meal.

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Spicy Flounder and Clams with Summer Vegetables

Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-14 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup carrots, finely cut julienne
  • 1/3 cup sugar snap peas, cross cut thinly
  • 1/3 cup zucchini, yellow, finely cut julienne
  • 6 each cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp. shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. parsley, fresh, minced
  • Dash salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 6 oz. fillet, flounder (2 fillets, 3oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice
  • 3/4 lb. clams, in the shell

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shallot, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, half of the parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss well to combine.
  3. Lightly oil two large heart shaped pieces of parchment paper.
  4. With the parchment paper on a sheet tray, place half of the vegetable mixture in the center of one half of each heart leaving about a 2" border.
  5. Lightly season each fillet with salt and pepper. Fold or roll the fillet to create a uniform thickness and place on top of the vegetables.
  6. Top the fish with the remaining herbs and the Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice.
  7. Place half of the clams around each portion of vegetables and fish.
  8. Fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables so that it resembles a teardrop.
  9. Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge towards the center. Fold over again to create a seal.
  10. Continue with this method along the length of the parchment packet folding each section twice to make an attractive edge.
  11. When you get to the point of the heart twist and fold to finish the seal.
  12. Bake the packets for 10-14 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
  13. Remove from the oven and serve by cutting an "X" in the top and folding back the edges.

Nutrition Information (per serving):

Calories 180, Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Monounsaturated Fat 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1g, Cholesterol 50mg, Sodium 450mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 2g, Sugar 4g, Protein 16g.