Defining Great Taste: Understanding the Balance of Basic Taste, Aromatic Flavor, & Texture

What does it take to create a successful food or beverage?

Developers must consider a number of factors, such as target audience, use cases, trends, competition, and more.

Yet, long-term, sustained success almost always comes down to one thing: Taste.

This is why you will always hear us saying things like:

  • “Taste is a main driver of liking,”
  • “People might try it but if it doesn’t taste great they won’t come back.” or even,
  • “Taste is king”.

However, when it comes to developing from a sensory perspective, “taste” can mean something very different. Understanding the complex and multifaceted nature of how we perceive the individual aspects of basic taste, aromatic flavor, and texture is necessary for crafting delicious flavors.


Basic Taste vs Aromatic Flavor (Olfaction)

Basic Taste

The term “taste” from a consumer’s perspective can often refer to the overall impression of a food including flavor and texture.

Taste, or more specifically, basic tastes, are the typical sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami that we are all familiar with and are perceived through receptors on your tongue.

It’s important to note that from a scientific standpoint “flavor”, which could seem synonymous with “taste” to consumers, takes into account basic taste, aromatics, and chemical feeling factors (sensations from chemicals, like the spicy heat from capsaicin or the prickliness of carbonation).


Aromatic Flavor (Olfaction)

When we consider the role of smell, scent, or aroma in flavor, it would be easy to think that we predominantly perceive it ortho nasally, sniffing with our noses.

While this can play a role in how we identify, enjoy, and differentiate a particular flavor, the majority of our sensory experience of flavor results from what’s called retro nasal olfaction.

Retronasal olfaction occurs as you chew food, releasing volatile aromatic compounds into the air. These aerosolized components travel up the back of your throat to olfactory receptors, and your brain interprets them as “strawberry,” “chocolate,” “Gouda,” and so on.

Though these aromatic compounds might be how your brain’s sensory system interprets the world of flavor, the connection and interplay between taste and aromatics can significantly impact how it does so.


Combining Taste & Flavor for Great Tasting Flavors

Grasping the connection and interaction between aromatic flavor compounds and basic taste-modulating ingredients like salt, sugar, and acid is fascinatingly complex.

Something as simple as pairing the same flavor compound with salt or sugar can create the perception of completely distinct and even seemingly unrelated profiles.

For example, we’ve tested a compound that tastes like toasted bread when paired with salt but like caramel when combined with sugar.

Another aromatic flavor component, when mixed with sugar, brings to mind notes of maple, yet swap that out for salt, and you’d think you just ate celery.


Figuring out these intricacies is incredibly important for any flavor category, but especially so for dairy.

With something like milk, there’s sugar (lactose) that provides the sweetness, and depending on the profile, maybe a little bit of salt. Then, looking at cheese, you would usually add salt to boost the umami but also find compounds with the right aromatic characteristics.

By deeply understanding basic taste and aromatic flavor on an individual sensory level, we are able to leverage them together to cover the full diversity of dairy profiles.

An Aged Cheddar or a Young Cheddar could have different levels of bitterness while highlighting the mushroomy-umami notes of a Camembert could be what separates it from the butteriness of a similar soft cheese like Brie.

Still, flavor profiles aren’t the only thing that distinguishes one dairy product from another.


Going hand in hand with “taste” is texture.

Texture has a significant impact on consumer liking of products, and for dairy, it can frequently be tied to previous experience and expectations.

Taking the previously mentioned Brie, for example, known for its soft, creamy, and smooth texture, you couldn’t put it in a hard cheese-like application without disrupting the sensory experience.

Likewise, the enjoyment of dairy beverages characterized by smooth and creamy texture is easily ruined when added ingredients like protein create grainy or chalky textures.

The ingredients influencing a product’s texture can also directly affect how flavor is released.

Everything from the ratios of certain ingredients to the specific types of fats chosen can make a difference.

Does the flavor linger on your tongue? Is it released right away depending on the solubility of the volitile components and how they interact?


Balancing All Three

Creating the sensory experience consumers are searching for is achieved through finding the right balance of basic taste, aromatic flavor, and texture.

This is true for any product, but with the rise of plant-based products, added functional ingredients, and better-for-you alternatives, it may seem even harder to reach.

Fortunately, with Edlong, you have a partner with the sensory knowledge and experience to help you get there.

Whether it’s masking off-notes, building back mouthfeel, optimizing the ingredients in your base, or all of the above, our team is here with full sensory support and holistic flavor solutions tailored for your product’s success.

About the Author: Julie Drainville, Global Sensory Manager

Julie Drainville leads all sensory functions for Edlong globally, maintaining a trained employee panel for sensory testing, and also collaborating with applications scientists and customers to run testing to meet project needs. Julie has an extensive background in food science including over 15 years in the sensory field, a degree from Purdue University in Foods, Nutrition and Business/Dietetics, a Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Rosalind Franklin University, and completion of the UC Davis Applied Sensory and Consumer Science Certificate Program.

Topics: Dairy flavorsDairy-freeInnovationMasking & mouthfeelSweet dairy flavors
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: US


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