Sensory Strategies for Success Part II: Plant-Based

With the myriad of issues, the planet and its populations face, companies across all industries are racing to develop creative and innovative solutions.

The food and beverage industry is no exception.

Striving to tackle pressing issues like sustainability, nutrition, and the environment head-on, novel ingredients and even entirely new segments are rapidly emerging onto the scene.

Still, while innovative products and impressive claims are necessary, more is needed for a product’s longevity.

The truth is, as much as people may be motivated by their health and that of the planet, taste is still a major driver in the market.

Having a highly trained and experienced Sensory team involved in the development process can significantly enhance a product’s likelihood of success.

While this is equally important for legacy and traditional products, its role is crucial for creating authentic and exciting plant-based experiences.


Sensing a Match for Plant-Based

To be abundantly clear, the primary sensory methods for plant-based product development are no different from that of other food and beverage products or even other consumer goods like lotions and shampoos.

However, several factors emphasize the role of sensory in getting a product just right.

These can include the novelty of ingredients and application forms, variability in bases, and the need for matching, especially when the target is real dairy.

For example, when tasting dairy milk, you might get a slight butter note.  Mimicking this in a plant-based alternative demands more than simply adding the flavor. Depending on the application’s base, this butter note could feel in your face and out of place, or it could get muddled in a sea of off-notes from the plant-based ingredients.

Balance is needed, but the profile you’re trying to match and the other flavor components present in your base’s ingredients may dictate the approach.

Pea or soy proteins will create very different challenges than, say, almonds. Obviously, none of these flavor notes are in real dairy.

In these early stages, Edlong’s R&D team will work to identify expectations for the final product, which notes need to be masked, and which can be complemented in the final profile.

Throughout the development process, a variety of sensory tools may be employed to verify and validate a match or desired profile solution.


Descriptive Analysis

Descriptive analysis is one of the more in-depth and comprehensive tools we utilize for understanding the sensory “blueprint” or profile of a product.

Our expert sensory panelists start this process by evaluating the gamut of identifiable attributes in the “gold standard” or target. They are trained to use a universal scale designed to be easily adaptable to a wide array of application types. 

The panel decides on the terms that will be used to define the product. Next, they measures the presence of the various aromatic flavor components on the universal scale and then they analyze the basic tastes (sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami).

After completing the panel, the data is aggregated, and a visual representation, like the one below, of dairy milk is generated for further analysis. 


This testing will show us if a gap exists between the target and the tested iteration and help to pinpoint where the differences lie and whether they are statistically significant or not.

Finding the Gaps (Paired Comparison Testing)

Several types of tests fall under the umbrella of discrimination testing.  The two we most commonly utilize are tetrad and paired comparison testing.


Tetrad testing verifies whether a particular iteration can be considered a match. For a more detailed explanation, see my recent article on the role of sensory testing in cost reduction.

Paired comparison, on the other hand, requires panelists to answer questions that actively compare and contrast two samples. For example, they may be asked to compare the intensity of certain aromas or taste attributes, the presence of particular flavor notes, and so on.

This specific type of testing works great for innovation work or discovering differences between a sample and the control.

Any one or all of these may be used during a project to help achieve the best taste possible.

At the end of the day overcoming these challenges requires close collaboration. With Edlong, you get access to our full team of R&D experts (Applications, Flavor Lab, and Sensory) to help quickly find the perfect solution for your plant-based project.

Want to learn more about how our team’s rapid iteration approach can be the key to your plant-based success? Contact our team and get started collaborating today!

About the Author: Julie Drainville, Manager – Global Sensory

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: InnovationPlant-Based
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: EUUS


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