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Results of an EU wide comparison of quality related characteristics of branded food products. Part 2 – Sensory testing

Abstract: 

The present study is the second part of the testing effort produced by the Joint Research Centre. It analyses the sensory properties of a subset of the same products that formed part of the 2018/19 label comparison samples to find out whether different recipes used for preparing a product lead to noticeable sensory differences. For this purpose, the competent authorities of the EU Member States who participated in the 2018/19 label comparison, were invited to prioritise products that were offered with differences in composition so that they could be included for sensory testing. As a result, 20 branded products, each comprising samples collected in 5-10 EU Member States, were included in the assessment performed by a panel of trained experts. The chosen sensory testing technique is called Structured Napping and was followed by Free Choice Profiling, which is a holistic assessment of sensory properties, whereby the tested samples are grouped according to their degree of similarity. For 10 out of the 20 food products evaluated, differences in the sensory properties among the national versions were noticeable. They mostly reflected the related compositional differences. No noticeable differences in the sensory properties were found for the remaining 10 products, though their composition differed to a certain extent. As was the case in the 2018/19 study, the observed differences did not show a geographical trend. Furthermore, the sensory testing revealed that larger differences in composition (i.e. different quantities and kinds of ingredients) led more frequently to noticeable, i.e. significant, differences in the sensory characteristics of different national versions of the same product. Smaller composition variations were mostly not noticeable. It should be noted that the sensory perception of a food product is only one of the elements that may affect consumers’ choice of products. For example, certain consumers may want to avoid certain types of ingredients for various reasons other than those linked to their health (e.g allergens). In particular, consumers increasingly attach importance to the environmental impact of certain ingredients, their geographical origin, mode of manufacturing, chemical compositions, etc.