By Dr Simone Poggesi, Massey University

Sensory evaluation of a product is influenced by all our senses, such as sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. However, both the product and the surrounding environment play a crucial role in shaping the way we experience food.

Traditionally, sensory testing has been conducted primarily in sensory booths, which are designed to isolate participants and thereby remove any potential distraction and external biases. While a controlled environment ensures consistency, it rarely replicates the real-world consumption experience. In fact, if we think about eating ice cream on a beach, breathing in the aroma of the sea breeze, the warmth of the sun, and the relaxing sound of waves crashing on the beach, it would be a perfect environment to fully enjoy the product. Our experience would be improved by all these sensory cues. Similarly, nobody would consider eating ice cream in a library, where the books are looking at you, the only sounds present are coming from someone in the background studying for the next exam, and the olfactory cues are new and old books.

These completely different experiences are the focus of research being conducted at the Feast (Food Experience and Sensory Tasting) Laboratory at Massey University. In 2019, the Feast laboratory constructed a sensory immersive space, a cutting-edge technology that allows the creation of virtual digital environments with 360-degree projection and software-applied perspective. This room has been further improved with an ambient scent machine, able to release aroma and present further sensory cues to participants. In fact, much research shows that olfaction is crucial in food perception, closely linked to emotions, mood, behaviour and even memory. The Feast lab is currently the most advanced immersive space for sensory and consumer science present in New Zealand and can be used to simulate different environments and study how they affect sensory evaluation of products.

Dr Simone Poggesi is a research officer at Massey University’s Feast (food experience and sensory testing) Laboratory. His role is focused on collaborations with private companies and research institutions in order to better understand consumer preferences for various food products.