Flavor (or Flavour)
Flavor (Flavour) is defined by ASTM International1 as:
“flavor, n—(1) perception resulting from stimulating a combination of the taste buds, the olfactory organs, and chemesthetic receptors within the oral cavity; (2) the combined effect of taste sensations, aromatics, and chemical feeling factors evoked by a substance in the oral cavity.”
This definition takes into account the three essential elements of flavor:
- tastes (e.g. sweet, salty);
- aromatics (e.g. strawberry, beany, fruity); and
- the chemical feeling factors or trigeminal sensations (e.g. heat/burn from chili, cooling from menthol).
However, as with many definitions, it does not provide understanding of the broader aspects of flavor.
Sensory scientists often think of flavor as a group of attributes that we evaluate in a sensory study. Chemists think of flavor as a group of compounds that make up the flavors we perceive. In fact, flavor is much more complex than a group of attributes or chemicals. In reality,the flavor is just that – the flavor, an integration of chemical components that result in various sensations that are processed into a single overall “package” by the brain that it can recognize and name. It is more than a collection of attributes. How does one describe the flavor of Coca-Cola® for example. Obviously, by naming it – the flavor of Coke® is Coke®.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help someone who has never tasted a particular product understand the flavor, nor does it help a product scientist control the quality, understand the shelf-life, or create a new product. Therefore, we use methods to rely on partitioning details of the flavor into portions that can be evaluated, understood, and acted upon. The intensity or amount of a particular attribute is only one part of flavor; the length of time it lasts, which attributes are dominant at any given point, how the attributes blend together, and how they compare to our mental picture of the product or similar products all impact the actual “flavor” of a product.
Descriptive sensory methods, starting with the Flavor Profile Method2, attempt to understand flavor by incorporating various aspects into the analysis. Most methods, for example, describe the characteristics of the flavor and measure the intensity, some methods use an overall flavor impact, amplitude, or other measure to measure the blendedness or balance of the individual components, some methods include order of appearance of attributes, and still other methods track the time course of the intensity to better understand the flavor of particular products.
Regardless of the method used to evaluate the flavor of a product, we must remember that flavor is a perceptual phenomenon that relies not only on the presence of certain aspects in a product, but also on the physiological status of the individual, memory, and the context in which it is presented.
1 ASTM International. 2009. Standard Terminology Relating to Sensory Evaluations of Materials and Products, E253-09a. ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA. E253-09a
2 CAUL, J.F. 1957. The profile method of flavor analysis. In Advanced in Food Research, Vol. 7, (E.M. Mrak and G.F. Steward, eds.) p.1, Academic Press. New York, USA