Linking Sensory Objective with Test Method

The three main methods of sensory testing are Discrimination, Descriptive Analysis and Acceptance. The sensory test objective will determine the appropriate method to use.

Discrimination tests are among the simplest sensory tests. They are based on comparison of samples and ask “Is there a difference”? Discrimination Tests are used to compare differences between a product and a competitor’s product, or between a current and a proposed formulation and want no noticeable change to the product.

Testing for similarity to replace an ingredient and maintain consistency in the product can also be accomplished with discrimination tests.

The triangle test is most commonly used to distinguish if there is a difference between products. It is statistically effective and significant results can be obtained using small panels. Panel members should be familiar with the test and be known discriminators.

Descriptive analysis provides the description of the sensory qualities of food. It pertains to the sensing and describing of both Qualitative and Quantitative sensory attributes.

Qualitative attributes are aroma, flavor, texture and sound. Quantitative attributes reflect the degree of the characteristic and is expressed by a scale value.

Highly trained panelists are required for descriptive work. Reference scales are used to ensure consistency between panelists during repeated evaluations.

Acceptance tests evaluate liking for foods. These are sometimes called consumer or affective tests. They are used to assess consumer response to products for the purpose of product maintenance, product improvement/optimization, new product development, assessment of market potential and advertising claim substantiation.

Acceptance tests can be qualitative or quantitative.

Qualitative tests measure the subjective response of consumers to products. These tests can identify unexpressed needs and wants, assess early responses to a product, identify consumer terminology or ways of describing sensory attributes and investigate consumer use of a product. Focus groups, focus panels and one-on-one interviews can be used to obtain this qualitative information.

Quantitative methods are used to determine overall preference or liking for a product and/or overall preference or liking for attributes of a product.

Preference testing asks the question; “Which product do you prefer?”

Acceptance testing asks the question; “Do you like this product?”, “How much do you like it?” or “What do you like about it?”

Preference and acceptance tests should not use trained panelists. Testers need to be representative of the target population of the product.


Quick Reference to Link Objective with Sensory Method

Objective      Method
  • Ingredient substitution
  • Processing Effects
Descriptive Analysis
  • Formulation Differences
Descriptive Analysis
  • Overall Acceptability
Consumer Acceptance
  • Preference control vs. test
Consumer Acceptance
  • Define product type/set action standards
Focus group/Interviews
  • Determine attributes that drive acceptance
Consumer Acceptance
  • Define & quantify attributes
  • Determine best combination of ingredients, levels, process
Consumer & Descriptive
  • Product changes overtime
Consumer, Descriptive, Difference
  • Plant vs. Pilot Plant
Difference, Descriptive, Consumer
  • Samples differ in specific characteristic
  • Difference from Control


ISO Standards for Sensory Evaluation