1.3 Sensory Attributes Activity

How to Describe the Sensory Attributes of Foods

As a part of this lab activity you will be asked to describe the attributes of a food product accurately and completely. The task is to describe the food, not your reaction to the food. For example, a chocolate pudding might be medium brown, smooth and shiny, thick but not gelled and have a flavor that includes sweet, chocolate and vanilla components. To make these kinds of descriptions, you will need to learn to go past your first reaction (I like it! I don’t like it!) and notice specific details about the food itself.

We usually notice the attributes of foods in the following order:

    1. Appearance
    2. Odor/Aroma
    3. Consistency and Texture
    4. Flavor

When we eat food, we often do not try to separate these sensations, we naturally just form an overall opinion about how much we like or dislike the product based on all of its attributes. With practice, however, we can learn to be more analytical about identifying and describing the sensory attributes of foods.

1. Appearance

Look at the food and describe all of the following that apply (not all of the attributes listed will apply to every food, and for some foods, you will need to come up with additional terms).

Color description:

  • Is it red, orange, brown, yellow-green, etc.?
  • The intensity of color: Is it light, medium, or dark?
  • Brightness: Is it bright or dull?
  • Evenness of color: Is the color even or is it uneven or blotchy?

Size and shape of the pieces or particles:

  • Are the pieces or particles relatively small, medium, or large? Square, round, flat, etc?
  • Evenness of distribution: Are the particles within the food uniformly or non- uniformly distributed?

Surface texture:

  • Is it dull or shiny; smooth or rough, grainy, curdled or bumpy; plump or shriveled:
  • Does it look wet or dry, soft or hard; if made up of particles, are they loose or clumped?


  • Is it clear or hazy or cloudy, transparent, translucent or opaque? Are particles or bubbles evident?

2. Odor or Aroma

Sniff the food a few times to detect the odor or aroma. The odor is caused by volatiles that reaches the olfactory receptors high up in the nasal cavity.

There are thousands of possible descriptors for food aromas. Sometimes we call the specific aromas “notes.” For example, a cookie might have a toasted wheat note or a caramelized note, a buttery note, and a vanilla note.

3. Consistency and Texture

When we manipulate food with our hands or with utensils and when we bite and chew it, we can judge how the food reacts to stress. As you sample your product, see if the following apply (you may need other terms as well).

  • Is the product thin or thick?
  • Is it soft, firm, or hard?
  • Is it airy or is it dense or heavy?
  • Is the product springy or rubbery?
  • Is the product slippery or slimy?
  • Is the product sticky?
  • Is the product brittle? crumbly?

When we eat food, we can also perceive the size and shape of particles in food through our sense of touch. And we can also note aspects that relate to the release of fat and moisture. Does your product have some of the following attributes?

  • Smoothness (absence of particles)
  • Grittiness (has small, hard particles)
  • Graininess (has small particles)
  • Chalkiness (imparts a film of fine particles or is powdery)
  • Flakiness (breaks into flat overlapping layers)
  • Fibrousness (has long, stringy particles)
  • Lumpiness (has large, even particles)
  • Juiciness (releases moisture as you chew; feels wet in your mouth)
  • Oiliness (leaves an oily residue in your mouth)
  • Greasiness (leaves a more solid greasy residue in your mouth)

4. Flavor

Flavor is the impression that we get from the chemicals in the food that are released when we are eating. Flavor consists of 1) tastes, 2) aromatics and 3) other sensations due to the stimulation of nerves in our mouth and nasal cavity.


Tastes are caused by water soluble materials that reach the taste receptors on our tongue and on other surfaces in the mouth. Tastes are limited in number and include:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Bitter


Aromatics include notes like lemon, butter, rancid, burnt, cheesy, cinnamon, meaty and thousands more such sensations. When we chew a product it seems like these flavor notes are coming from our mouth, but the volatile molecules being released from the food actually travel to the olfactory receptors when air is forced up and over these receptors as we chew. The aromatics are responsible for much of the flavor impact for most foods.

Chemical Feeling Factors:

Some chemicals in foods cause sensations that are not taste or smell but are important to flavor in some foods. These include:

  • Astringency (a sensation of dryness or puckering in the mouth)
  • Heat (from spices)
  • Cooling (from menthol)
  • Biting (for example from highly carbonated beverages)
  • Pungency (for example from horseradish)

Try to name all of the tastes, flavor aromatics and chemical feeling factors that you can identify in your product.

5. Noise

Some foods make noise when we eat them. These noises contribute to perceptions such as:

  • Crispiness
  • Crunchiness
  • Squeakiness

Did your product have any of these attributes?

Sensory Evaluation

Food: _______

Appearance (sight):
Odor/Aroma (smell)
Texture/Consistency (touch):
Flavor (taste):
Noise (sounds you hear while chewing):
Other observations/comments:

Food: _______

Appearance (sight):
Odor/Aroma (smell)
Texture/Consistency (touch):
Flavor (taste):
Noise (sounds you hear while chewing):
Other observations/comments:


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Basic Scientific Food Preparation Lab Manual Copyright © 2023 by Iowa State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.