The Taste Test: How We Talk About Food
Maria Zannis, Innovation and Specification Adherence Auditor
In a kitchen on the fourth floor of our Tyson Foods corporate office in Chicago, there hangs a sign with ninety bold, blue words, ranging from delicious descriptors like “savory” and “juicy” to not-so-appetizing adjectives like “musty” and “rancid.”
While these words might seem a little passionate, let me give you a scenario:
To assist our evaluators with descriptions, we created a Sensory Word Bank to hang in our kitchen. We encourage our participants to look at the sign for inspiration and challenge themselves to use at least one word to describe the foods they sample. Since the introduction to the Sensory Word Bank, we’re finding that it’s easier to get objective feedback from our evaluators—not just thumbs up or thumbs down. We are now having more meaningful conversations about our products and helping the participants better describe the foods that they eat. We’ve even gotten feedback that participants are using our Sensory Word Bank in their daily lives—like at home with finicky kids to help them explain why they don’t like eating their vegetables!
Prior to Tyson Foods, I worked in the FSQA (Food Safety Quality Assurance) department at a flavor manufacturing facility. I spent a lot time describing the odors, flavors, and textures I was experiencing in the products I sampled. I soon found myself using my sensory vocabulary whenever I ate, and I haven’t stopped since! I feel confident and comfortable describing aspects that I do or don’t like about specific foods. Instead of saying “wow, I really love this,” or “oh my, I really don’t like this,” I prefer something along the lines of, “there is a nice balance of citrus and herbal notes in this dish,” or “the texture of this meal is very gritty.” Both are indirect ways of expressing how I feel about my food.
If you’re stuck in a word rut when it comes to voicing how you feel about your meal—fret no more!
Here are a few descriptors from our Sensory Word Bank and examples of how you can use them
in your everyday dining experiences.
Jammy (flavors and aromas associated with cooked, fruity, and concentrated jams)
Scenario: You’re eating a pastry appetizer with sausage, cheese, and fruit. You’re sensing cooked and sweet notes from the fruit. You think it could be strawberry jam.
Use it in a sentence: “This pastry bite is great! I’m getting a lot of jammy notes from the strawberry preserves.”
The great thing about our individual food experiences is that each one is unique—depending on your personal preferences, you could use one word to describe a food that you love, but maybe the person next to you uses the same word to describe a taste or texture that they hate. That’s the beauty of objective descriptors: we can communicate clearly and effectively without letting our biases get in the way.
Don’t limit yourself to only the words above—create your own vocabulary based on words or even childhood memories (do Dunk-a-Roos taste “nostalgic” or what?)!
For all foodies or wannabe foodies, I challenge you to make it a goal to use at least one new word to illustrate what you’re tasting every day. You might even start a meaningful conversation about food or meet a new friend!
Published February 11, 2019.
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