Founded in 2002, the Italian Sensory Science Society aims to further the development and applications of Sensory Science, with a specific attention to promote research and discussion, to share knowledge and to teaching.
The quality of a food and its acceptability by consumers depend on various factors associated with the characteristics of the raw materials and conditions of production and marketing. The definition of quality standards and reliable methods for their evaluation are essential conditions for both consumer protection and good competitive relationships among producers.
Among the various properties that determine quality, sensory aspects require particular attention because they are what decide acceptability and, at the same time, they are the most difficult to evaluate objectively.
Sensory science is a complex discipline that deals with the measurement, interpretation and comprehension of human responses to product properties as perceived by the senses. The multidisciplinary nature of sensory analyses means that this science closely depends on empirical and theoretical contributions from many areas including physiology, philosophy, anthropology, and marketing as well as chemistry, technology and statistics.It can be said that current practice in sensory science has been defined over the last 50 years in a technical and scientific context where the aim has been to improve the sensory quality of food industry production. The methods utilized have been adapted from those of experimental psychology which have been evolving for 150 years and, in turn, has its roots in 2500 years of history of philosophy.The key term for sensory science is to connect because of this discipline’s intrinsic capacity to connect two or more diverse units.Sensory science is relational and interdisciplinary: it unites the product with the person simply because food (the product) interacts with human beings (the person) after having been eaten, thus establishing interdisciplinary relationships that range from molecular chemistry to cognitive psychology. Understanding the person-product relationship raises questions about the sensation-perception-cognition process which, from an epistemological perspective, deals with the discovery (by way of the senses) of the existence and properties of the external world.Sensory science is timeless, referring to the connection between questions asked by the ancient Greeks and current controversies regarding the relationship between man and the world (product-person interactions). What is the source of knowledge about an apple? Is it the physical measurement of its sugar content, the amount of sweetness perceived, or both? Is sweetness perceived on the tongue or in the feeling of well-being when we think of an apple?Sensory perception is timeless also with regard to the history of individuals, in fact sensory perceptions exist before birth. Amniotic fluid, saliva, maternal blood are all examples of prenatal sensory stimuli. Immediately after birth, the mother’s milk is not only our first source of gustative sensations, but it conditions our preferences when we are adults. Studies conducted on babies raised on maternal milk, which changes taste from day to day depending on the mother’s diet, and babies raised on dried milk formula, which remains unchanged with regard to taste, have shown that while the former group has a good attitude toward a various diet, the latter group strongly resists food and tastes that are unknown and naturally prefer a monotonous diet. The first taste of milk continues, in some way, to follow us in our adult life and through our memories it influences our opinion of sensory perceptions, constituting the scheme according to which we orient ourselves when confronted with new sensations. Sensory science is, therefore, existential, uniting perception of the senses by way of the human life.A further aspect of sensory science’s uniqueness deals with the integration of various modalities of sense, the connection, for example, between perception of color and smell. In the development of technical tools, often these instruments are conceived as an extension of one of our senses – microscopes, amplifiers, and in recent years artificial noses and tongues – and sensory science plays an important role in the calibration of instrumental responses and human perceptions.Sensory evaluation is a science that starts from problems of the real world and develops in a purely empirical field toward basic academic studies. In a scientific and technologic context, sensory science is considered a light discipline, while the topics dealt with are considered difficult in psychological and humanistic terms: a technician does not trust human measurements, whereas humanists protest the vision of humans as instruments for measurement.In spite of this, the methods of sensory evaluation are:reliable, i.e. reproducibility in statistical terms when trials are carried out in a suitable way;pertinent, since sensory quality refers to the perception of a product by human beings. Thus, sensory evaluations are much more valid and pertinent for the final aim than indirect chemical measurements;substantial, considering that the human brain has an incredible capacity to correct evaluations with regard to interference. That which is complex in chemistry and physics is often simple for the human eye or nose.
Sensory perception, as the act that makes us aware of a great amount of chemical and physical information about a product by using various senses at the same time, requires a multivariate approach. This implies more research into the connections between physiological conditions and psychological experience. The organization of all these various areas into a common one would be of great assistance for the understanding of stimulus-response relationships between a biologically complex material and the complex system of human sensation-perception-cognition in a cultural context.The Italian Sensory Science Society aims to represent Italian cultural environment, developing cognitive and comparative paths within the sensory science discipline.