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The first method of descriptive analysis, developed by the Arthur D. A significant share of sensory science research and theory has been developed in this particularly contingent fashion, in which the needs of the industry dictate the research to be done, the research to be made public, and subsequently the theory that is formulated from that research. The concept of overfitting comes from statistics, especially non-linear modeling: a model becomes overfitted when it is made to conform too well to the sample data on which it is based, and it no longer has predictive power for data outside of the sample for a quick, non-technical summary, see Silver As I will discuss below, industrial food production has certain features that make the system and the food produced within the system distinct.

Sensory science methodologies implicitly or explicitly rely on these distinct features, and so apply only poorly, if at all, to food produced outside of the system. Thus, the concept of overfitting becomes a gloss for the poor portability of sensory science methodologies outside of the context in which they originate Latour Industrial food production is predicated on absolute control of inputs and methods, and the result is a vast quantity of near-identical product.

The elimination of unexpected variation is one of the features of industrial production on which sensory science methodologies rely, and when this assumption of homogeneity is not met, as in non-industrial production, sensory science methodologies are difficult, if not impossible, to apply. Experimental changes in formulation and production process can then be causally linked to changes in its sensory profile. The implementation of a paradigm of control allows the industrial production of food to be treated as an experimental situation, in which specific hypotheses can be rigorously tested, including those concerning sensory perception.

Sensory science can confidently relate sensory differences in products to changes of process or formulation precisely because the assumption of homogeneity holds for industrial production. But sensory science, which was developed with the assumption of control in industrial production, does not have a paradigm for capturing an uncertain relationship between process and outcome.

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What is the sensory profile of this type of cheese? Should the two cheeses, nominally produced in the same way, be considered different products because they taste different? An epistemology that relies on total control, common to industrial production and sensory science, is tricky to apply to artisan production. In fact, the only way to answer these questions that is epistemologically valid for sensory science is to control the sources of variation in non-industrial practice, rendering the workmanship one of certainty instead of risk, and thereby changing the very object of study. I call this the assumption of homogeneity; once it is made explicit it problematizes the ability of sensory science to address foods produced outside the industrial paradigm.

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In the industrial workmanship of certainty, in which process is obfuscated and unimportant, only outcomes are important Paxson ; the products of this workmanship seem to be portable across contexts precisely because they are explicitly detached from any specific production context. The assumption that foods are portable — that they can be detached from any particular context— is key for sensory science practice. Thus, both foods and sensing subjects are removed from their normal contexts, an act which has profound consequences for perceptual and cognitive processes Lave ; the assumed acontextuality of most industrial products helps mediate this displacement.

Consider, for example, the sensory evaluation of cheese in which researchers, concerned about the effect of color on flavor perception, required subjects to wear sunglasses inside the sensory evaluation laboratory e. Divorcing the tasting experience from its everyday context is a known problem within the discipline, to which I am in no way the first to draw attention e.

If food products are naturally without context then they become portable across contexts. There is nothing peculiar, then, in having subjects taste them in ways that seem odd when compared with everyday life, because they have, as a rule, never been part of everyday life. In this way, the assumption of contextual portability renders foods as acultural, asocial packets of organic matter — as close, in other words, as they can be made to maps, equations, or chemical compounds: of constant form and function wherever they are found Latour Producers, for example, see the sensory profile of their products as a reflection of not only their materials and production practices, but also their ethical choices and relationship to the land on which they rely Paxson In addition, the complex interactions between connoisseurship and repeated experience are at play in the production of sensory experience e.

Therefore, the assumption that a non-industrial food product is easily portable between contexts is demonstrably untrue to be fair, it is probably untrue for industrial products as well, to which consumers can and do form all the same attachments, practices, and expectations. When a non-industrial product is brought into the laboratory or testing context, it deforms much more than an industrial product: it is not a context-free product, an acultural organic mass, but a food to which subjects have relationships shaped by individual, social, and cultural contexts. Even critics that highlight problems with context in sensory science in general e.

As a result, the fact that this dichotomy stems from a particular aspect of industrial production has been so far unaddressed. I call these, respectively, assumptions of homogeneity and contextual portability, because, as discussed above, they are not explicitly guaranteed or created by sensory scientists in practice.

Instead, they are assumed to be fundamental features of food production. As also noted above, however, they are only fundamental features of industrial food production, and in fact are mostly atypical of non-industrial food production practice. However, because sensory science is deeply invested in concepts of objectivity and epistemological rigor, when sensory evaluation of artisan foods contradicts the experience of ordinary consumers, it is the consumers who are assumed to be irrational or self-deceiving e.

This common conclusion itself should be evidence enough that there is some misfit between the methodologies and the phenomena of interest. Here I present a necessarily brief summary of empirical research that I have conducted to understand the success of artisan cheesemaking in Vermont. This research integrates sensory-science methodology — focus-group work and novel consumer-product profiling and acceptance — with social theories of human sensory behavior Hennion , ; Lave ; Shapin , instead of the strictly psychophysical. The results are telling: in artisan products, consumers taste both intrinsic and extrinsic qualities, calling into question some of the fundamental disciplinary assumptions of sensory science.

Sensory scientists have increasingly become interested in the effects of extrinsic properties e. To make matters more complicated, American cheesemaking in general lacks the cultural patrimony that tends to promote coherent traditional practice in European cheesemaking Paxson ; there are not protected-name categories for products as in Europe Barham ; Guy Instead, American cheesemakers tend to invent their own style of cheese, often inspired by but intentionally different from any other cheese being made Paxson , ; West et al.

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Perhaps these consumers are biased — they have become convinced that of some external claim about how these cheeses should taste, and are reporting their sensory perceptions in ways that confirm this position and avoid cognitive dissonance — or perhaps they are in some way tasting these extrinsic properties. I was curious whether there was evidence for the latter explanation, and designed sensory-science research that would give some insight into this question.

Given the increasing evidence that indicates, due to the complex, integrative nature of sensory perception, it is entirely possible to consider a taste of and for non-material, extrinsic properties e. In the focus groups, participants were asked to describe their experiences with and the sensory properties of Vermont artisan cheese.

I was able to synthesize a set of generalizable properties that consumers used to construct these experiences, and these properties were both intrinsic e. Their validity was reinforced by triangulation with previous work with artisan cheese producers, in which the producers used similar terms in similar ways to describe their own sensory experiences Paxson , Consumers were provided with Vermont cheeses and accurate descriptions that either described the generic type of cheese e.

Iaccarino et al.


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Thus, context and other extrinsic properties affect the actual consumption experience of these products: the taste of Vermont artisan cheeses is not fixed, but emerges in the practices of consumption. This lacuna is not an oversight: it is simply that artisan foods have historically not been important to the food industry, and so they have not been important to sensory science. Recently, however, there has been growing public, academic, and industrial interest in understanding foods from outside the industrial paradigm, and it has become evident that, due to the particular historical contingency of sensory science, these present an unexpected difficulty to the usual disciplinary methodologies.

Sensory science methods assume that the true sensory properties of a food product remain, within limits of random variation, constant across instantiations of that product and contexts that a consumer might encounter it; in contrast, artisan food products are inherently variable and are dependent on the many contexts of everyday life. Furthermore, examinations of artisan foods and everyday sensory experiences present challenges to an even more fundamental assumption of sensory science: that there is a single set of true or valid sensory properties for each food product, and that these properties can be conclusively distinguished from so-called biasing or false properties.

In fact, the empirical evidence points in the opposite direction: food sensory properties are dependent on the subject, the context, and on a myriad of factors that are obscured by paradigms of experimental control. To understand these foods, and to understand sensory experience in everyday life, sensory science must step back from historically contingent theories and practices. What is required is first a questioning and then a relaxation of disciplinary assumptions about homogeneity, contextual invariance, and the objectivity of sensory properties.

Principles of sensory evaluation of food. ARES G. Food Quality and Preference, 21 , Consciousness and Cognition, 17, Sensation and Judgment: Complementarity Theory of Psychophysics.


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  • Food Quality and Preference, 19, Journal of Rural Studies, 19, Friedman eds. Handbook of Perception. New York: Academic Press. Distinction: a social critique of the judgment of taste. CAIN W. Journal of Dairy Science, 87, Anthropology of food [Online], 8. GUY K. When champagne became French: Wine and the making of a regional identity.

    Hanrahan eds. The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Cultural Sociology, 1, HOWES ed. Empire of the Senses. Oxford and New York: Berg. Cork and talk: the cognitive and perceptual bases of wine expertise. PhD, University of Sydney. Food Quality and Preference, 17 , Appetite, 54, Food Quality and Preference, 14, Food Quality and Preference, 20, Appetite, 78 , Food Quality and Preference, 32, Most importantly, the lab exercises will complement the flagship textbook in the field, Sensory Evaluation of Foods: Principles and Practices, 2E, also by Lawless and Heymann and published by Springer.

    Possible course adoption of the main text along with the lab manual should enhance the sales of these materials.

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    JavaScript is currently disabled, this site works much better if you enable JavaScript in your browser. Complements the flagship textbook Sensory Evaluation of Foods Easily adaptable to coursework Includes problem sets see more benefits. Buy eBook.

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    Buy Softcover. FAQ Policy. About this Textbook Laboratory exercises are a necessary part of science education. Show all. Harry T.