The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Taste Test

The Taste Test

Dietitian Dialogues

December 26, 2010

What is your favorite fruit? What’s the best meal you’ve ever had or made? When it comes to food and meals, I have discovered that there is a wide range and variety in what is appealing and appetizing to our customers, and they can become quite passionate about their likes and dislikes. We tend to think that taste and whether we like a particular food, begins and ends in our mouths; but this in fact is only part of the equation. Here’s a look at some of the other factors involved:


Visual

When we see a food item, even the packaged version, if the color is unappealing, we may be reluctant to try it. A hot food bar or buffet with a plethora of brown/tan items may immediately turn some away. Meanwhile, a colorful array of fruits and vegetables in the produce area or a salad bar stimulates people to buy. We have all seen products disappear temporarily or permanently that had unattractive packaging.

Smell 

Particularly if it is a new and unfamiliar food, our next step may be to smell it. If it has a familiar or pleasing aroma, we may be more inclined to taste it. It’s believed that smell or aroma accounts for about 80% of our perception of taste. Try pinching your nose closed and put food in your mouth. Does it taste the same? This is why when we have a cold and our noses are stuffed up, nothing tastes good to us! Walking into a supermarket and being greeted with the yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread or the sweet smell of cookies out of the oven encourages customers to buy those items.

Taste

What our taste buds pick up about food is the next component of whether we like or don’t like it. There are four common tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The fifth taste is umami, which is compared to a savory quality. Umami is found in mushrooms, anchovies, and green tea. There are actually people who are known as supertasters, more commonly women, who taste flavors much more acutely than others. Offering customers an opportunity to sample new products with in-store tastings is a chance to make a sale.

Mouthfeel

How does the food feel in your mouth? Is it hot or cold, smooth or creamy, crunchy, and so on? Often, children have strong reactions to the texture of food, and this may cause them to prefer softer or creamier items. Mouthfeel also pertains to spiciness; the heat you’d feel from eating chili peppers or sriracha sauce. Another component of mouth feel is astringency, like the pucker in your mouth if you suck on a lemon or have a very dry glass of wine. 

The Bottom Line

Whether it is an unusual fruit or vegetable or a new product in the frozen food section, giving customers an opportunity to see, smell and taste can help you sell product. Give it a try!

Source: Page, K., Dornenburg, A. (2008) The Flavor Bible


Leah McGrath has been a Registered Dietitian with the American Dietetic Association since 1996 and is the Corporate Dietitian for Ingles Supermarkets. Leah also writes for WNC Parent Magazine and Sophie Magazine, appears regularly on North Carolina radio shows and is a guest speaker for numerous hospitals and businesses throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at allison@supermarketguru.com.