Sensory search for the perfect flavour.

Chocolate is to the palate what velvet and silk are to the skin – not essential, but pure pleasure. As chocolate melts in the mouth, the somewhat bitter and slightly acidic components of the cocoa combine with the sweetness of the sugar to produce the unique chocolate flavour.

Product developers and chocolatiers work closely together to guarantee an indulgent chocolate experience. Various recipes and technologies are analysed in detail and tailored to the nuances and aromas of a particular chocolate. This means that our specialists can refine raw ingredients such as cocoa beans and nuts into unique products. Sensory analysis provides the necessary basis for this. It is a measurement method that allows the quality and, in particular, the flavour of products to be accurately described using sensory impressions. For example, is the colour of the chocolate light brown or very dark? What does the crack sound like when the chocolate is broken? Or how quickly does the chocolate melt in the mouth? Results that were previously recorded using a pen and paper questionnaire are now documented digitally. The attributes of the flavour profile are analysed via computer, tablet or smartphone. 

Digitalizing the chocolate sensory analysis.

At HALBA, the flavour qualities of cocoa masses, chocolates, as well as nuts, dried fruit and cake mixes are analysed using an online tool. With the help of his team, François Stahl develops chocolates and snacks in line with the latest trends. He has been a passionate chocolatier for over 20 years. Sensory analysis is an important working tool when searching for the perfect flavour. Together with Christian Thäler, Head of sensory analysis at HALBA, they have further developed and digitalised sensory analysis.

In which areas is sensory analysis indispensable, François Stahl?
Sensory analysis is essential when selecting raw flavouring ingredients such as cocoa from the countries of origin. Sourcing directly means that we are responsible for the quality of the raw ingredients purchased. This is why these raw ingredients always go through standardized sensory testing. The roasted cocoa bean forms the basis for various chocolate formulations which are then used in a range of finished products. The basic raw ingredient must meet our strict standards. If this was not the case, the flavour of the various end products would be inconsistent. As such, sensory analysis is an extremely important means of testing at HALBA in order to guarantee the quality of our products.

Which products are particularly well suited to sensory analysis?
Generally speaking, all products can be sensory tested. However, our main focus is on cocoa and chocolate mass, nuts and dried fruit. Certain products, such as cake mixes, are tested as finished goods after the baking test as it would make little sense to taste them in their dry state.

The HALBA product world includes chocolate, snacks and baking & cooking ingredients. Which HALBA products are particularly exciting when it comes to sensory analysis?
Chocolate sensory analysis is the most exciting discipline. The variety of flavours of chocolate from different origins is a veritable round-the-world trip for the palate: from Honduras to Ecuador, Ghana and Madagascar, the choice and flavours are extensive.

How does sensory testing work?
It almost always involves comparing, scaling, quantifying and describing the various products. Important product characteristics – known as attributes – are analysed using a scale. A diagram or profile of the tested product can be created using the results – like a fact sheet that serves as a reference.

How will sensory analysis advance with digitalization?
During the coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to perform any sensory testing on site. We made the most of this time to digitalize the process, moving it away from paper questionnaires and over to digital analysis. As a result, it is now possible to carry out the tests digitally, from any location.

What are the benefits of digital sensory analysis?
Thanks to digitalization, we can be more flexible in terms of time and location. In addition, the analysis can be visualized instantly and is available at any time. The challenge at the start was the switch from paper to digital analysis. In the initial stage, this was not always easy – the new technology also had its pitfalls. Today, digital analysis is established and its implementation has become routine.

For which areas is digital sensory analysis particularly well suited
Digitalization has brought significant added value to chocolate sensory analysis. In addition to instant analysis, the more comprehensive questions mean that the character of a chocolate or chocolate profile can be described in great detail. The result is an elaborate "chocolate language" that can describe the product very accurately.

Are there any new future applications emerging in the area of digitalized sensory analysis?
There will be new technology in the future. This includes intelligent sensors coupled with analysis by artificial intelligence. Detailed analyses also bring added value to customers.  Good flavour is a priority, not just for us, but also for our customers. A visual and detailed description helps them decide which product to buy. This means that digitalization is happening in the background while sensory analysis remains at the fore.