Science updates Scientific Communication Thoughts of a Sensory Scientist – what is influencing my job on a daily basis?

Thoughts of a Sensory Scientist – what is influencing my job on a daily basis?

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Thoughts of a Sensory Scientist – what is influencing my job on a daily basis?

By Martin Wendelin - Symrise Austria for the readers of
This article focuses on sensory science and consumer research in the food and beverage industry. It explains the essence of this science which deals with human beings and their perceptual senses.

The Human Senses…
The human senses are the gatekeepers of the human body and interact with the environment 24/7. They all have the primary purpose of detecting danger. In our case if food is delicious, nourishing, unpleasant or even harmful. Their detection range can be as wide ranging, as seeing and hearing or as narrow as smell, touch and taste. All of them play an important role in the food and beverage business in our daily lives while eating and drinking and evaluating food stuff.
The traditionally acknowledged concept of the five senses is dated back to at least Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) who classified them.   On-going scientific research is stretching the boundaries and finding new facts on the interaction of the humans with the environment. New physiological concepts concerning the human senses count way more than five, they include for example the sense for balance, pain and temperature. Depending on the model some scientist are naming 21 or even 36 different human senses.
Not only the general model is investigated, also already established senses are constantly under review. Taste for instance was based on four different perceptions – sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In 1908 a Japanese scientist discovered the fifth taste umami  which translates into delicious taste and stands for protein rich nourishment. Besides many other options of variants of basic taste, fat  is now the hottest topic in becoming the sixth basic taste.

Human Perception…
Besides the physiological factors the psychological ones are indispensable as well. The brain plays a relevant part as it is analysing and interpreting the data perceived by the five – or more – senses. Combined with learning, experience, memory, motivation and expectation they are influencing and shaping our physiological skills and our likes, dislikes and emotions towards products.
We should always keep in mind that the basis of our perception, the interpretation of our senses by the brain is based on physiological reactions. And these physiological reactions are as different as people are. People are different not only in their preferences but also how they interpret and see their environment. Caused by genetic and social factors, there is no distinct way in how to see the world properly.
As an example on how different people see the world look at figure. What do you see?

sensory test

You can see a duck, a rabbit or both. Turn the picture 45° clockwise and counter clock wise to perceive the options more clearly. In this picture there are no colours and simple geometric shapes and still it can lead to different interpretations and perceptions.

The amount of information our senses are producing is huge. The environment influences us to an extent that our brain has the responsibility to scan and select important from non-important facts. Out of 400 billion bits of information per second, just 2000 bits are utilized by the brain. To gather all the necessary information people shall focus, pay attention and even more, be aware to extend perception.  A better grasp on what awareness and how the human brain works can be seen in following video


The utmost important factor in human perception is communication, the way of sharing with other people in a comprehensible way. It restricts, if someone cannot describe experiences or needs. As the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 –1951) once said:  ”The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
In sensory science this is supported by flavour languages. Flavour languages help the sensory scientist and panelist to understand flavour tonalities better. They are based on descriptors, which are commonly used words and their references, which are chemical molecules. For instance the descriptor butter is based on the chemical molecule diacetyl – menthol is for the cooling direction of mint- and so on. These descriptors can be thought and learned and help communication throughout a project team.
And last when speaking of communication, it is a sensory scientist’s job to ask the right and correct questions in order to get the right answers. We have to be skilled in dealing with people and to motivate the people assessing samples, to lead a group without biasing and gaining respect without being an authority. A sensory Scientist has to keep in mind that the human psyche and perception is not standardised.

Sensory Science…
Sensory Science has a broad scope with many areas of application. You can approach studies via natural sciences or humanities with a focus on technology or human behaviour. Scientific questions can be directed towards products or people.  Roughly, the two main routes are the effective testing with a focus on objective facts on products, for example testing for differences or a descriptive profiling – and the affective testing, dealing with subjective facts – emotions, needs, preference, wanting, liking or craving of consumers.
The food and beverage industry applies sensory science and consumer research in various ways. Shelf life tests or raw material control in quality management or the creation and validation of new concepts in the product development or market appraisal phase are just a few important ones.
Nonetheless, the basis of all methods is the human being – the human as a “measuring instrument”. How the five senses perceive the environment and what are the needs and emotions of consumers towards products.  This helps Sensory Science and consumer research to become a mighty creation and guidance tool to capture the consumer voice and translate into understood and valid concepts.


Martin Wendelin - Symrise Austria
Sensory & Consumer Insights Manager CEE
Sensory Scientist Fats&Oils and Dairy
Heiligenstädter Straße 31/3/701 (Skyline)
A-1190 Vienna/Austria
Phone (+43) 1 86 682 214(+43) 1 86 682 214
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


1.    Wikipedia : sensation
2.    On the Soul Aristotle. Translated by J. A. Smith. The Internet Classics Archive.
3.    Umami taste receptor identified
4.    Chaudhari N, Landin AM, Roper SD. A metabotropic glutamate receptor variant functions as a taste receptor. Nat Neurosci. 2002;3(2):113–119. 
5.    Receptor for tasting fat identified in humans
6.    Ηow much information processing the brain?


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