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The science of sensory evaluation

Mouth-watering anticipation of holiday food is part of the science of sensory evaluation. (Photo:
Holidays fan the flames of our love affair with food. As soon as summer melts into fall, our thoughts leap ahead with mouth-watering anticipation to family gatherings around a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast with all the trimmings. Months before the turkey is carved, you can almost smell it roasting in the oven. You can almost taste the salty goodness of stuffing and gravy. You can almost see colorful visions of home-baked treats dancing in your head.

Your sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch sends signals to your brain that the holiday feasting season has arrived. These basic senses are the tools that influence how much you like – or dislike – the foods you eat.

Sensory evaluation also has practical applications in agriculture. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and their colleagues often conduct sensory panels for specific food crop studies. Recently volunteer evaluators filed into the sensory evaluation lab at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to participate in a grape sensory panel. UC researcher Mary Lu Arpaia and USDA researcher David Obenland collected data for a study on the impacts of various storage conditions on grape varieties.

David Obenland of the USDA prepares citrus samples for evaluation.
Evaluators tasted grape samples and recorded their responses to appearance, taste and texture. Samples given to each evaluator were randomly ordered to eliminate bias in the test results. Evaluators were instructed to sip water between tastings to cleanse the palate. Evaluation procedures can vary slightly from product to product. When sensory panels are conducted for avocados, evaluators are instructed to munch on raw carrots before sipping water due to the oil in avocados. The coarse texture of carrots more fully cleanses the palate between avocado tastings. Other sensory panels have been conducted on citrus.

“There's a bit of psychology involved as well. How the product looks can influence your perception of how it tastes. To further eliminate bias, evaluators are intentionally isolated in individual stations so as not to be influenced by their neighbors' reactions,” explained David Obenland.

Grapes are displayed for evaluators to rate fruit appearance.
Sensory evaluation is used by commodity groups like the Table Grape Commission too. Data collected from a grape sensory panel provides important feedback to growers to identify factors that will inform marketing strategies and produce a quality product that consumers are more likely to buy. Evaluators can be recruited from industry groups, in which case they are considered to be “semi-experts,” or from the general public which are classified as “true consumers.”

The sensory evaluation lab at the Kearney Agricultural REC reflects the current philosophy of fruit commodity research that the industry's focus should be on sensory evaluation, from new pest management to horticultural practices to varietal improvements. The lab was completed and dedicated in April 2008 with support from the California Avocado Inspection Committee, Citrus Research Board, Food Machinery Corporation, Peach, Plum and Nectarine Growers of California, Sunkist and Table Grape Commission.

Author: Roberta Barton

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 8:37 AM
Tags: agriculture (17), Kearney (2), lab (1), senses (1), sensory (1), UC (1)

SJC and Delta Field Crops Meeting

UC Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County will host the SJC and Delta Field Crops Meeting on Friday, January 8, 2016 from 8:00am to 12:00pm. The meeting location is the Cabral Agricultural Center in Stockton (2101 E.Earhart Ave., Stockton, CA...

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 12:55 PM

Living with wildlife while managing working landscapes

Good fencing is one tool that allows coyotes and sheep to share the open range.
The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (UC HREC) will host workshops on Dec. 1 and 2 to foster understanding and encourage community dialog about ranching on a landscape with populations of coyote, black bear, mountain lions and other wildlife.

“Mendocino County supports many ranchers and our communities enjoy locally produced lamb, beef, milk, cheese and other agricultural products,” said Kimberley Rodrigues, director of UC HREC. “Along with these opportunities come challenges associated with living alongside some of our resident wildlife. The workshops will help local residents deal with these challenges.”

Rodrigues – who has a doctorate degree in environmental science and has been a leader in outreach, strategic facilitation and partnership development for 25 years – has been actively involved in wildlife management at the 5,300-acre HREC since she arrived in mid-2014.

“I quickly realized the biggest challenge to maintaining a sustainable flock of sheep here in our location is addressing predation issues, primarily by coyotes,” Rodrigues said. “With some improvements to our fences, changes in pasture rotations and increased use of guard dogs, losses of sheep to coyotes are now at an acceptable level. We hope to share our own experience, hear from diverse perspectives and experiences at these events and would like HREC to become a hub for future learning on this topic.”

Recent discussion and decisions made by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors regarding their contract with USDA Wildlife Services (WS) and their use of an integrated wildlife damage management program prompted UC HREC to provide a space for two workshops to allow learning on wildlife management and community conversation.

The Dec. 1 workshop will focus on scientific design and is implemented by USDA WS. It provides an opportunity to hear experts from USDA, the Californi Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Cooperative Extension and Defenders of Wildlife to discuss the most up-to-date research in wildlife behavior and non-lethal control methods.

The Dec. 2 community conversation workshop is hosted by UC HREC and includes current research from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, wildlife biologists and discussion of the challenges associated with ranching in Mendocino County from the Magruder family and other local ranchers. The day will culminate in discussion groups on topics ranging from integrated wildlife management tools to understanding local, state and federal connections.

The public may attend either day or both days. Registration for the two workshops is separate.

“Topography, surrounding environments, community viewpoints, available funds and the kind of animals being farmed are all part of the picture – there is no easy solution,” said Hannah Bird, UC HREC community educator. “Ranchers and land managers need to know what tools are available to them and the implications and benefits of each of these tools. Attending both workshops will provide a deeper understanding of the issues.”

Community members, ranchers, land managers and members of non-profit organizations are invited to attend. The workshops will be at the Rod Shippey Hall, Hopland Research and Extension Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449. Registration is $30 for each day (including lunch) and must be made in advance. The registration deadline is Nov. 23. Space is limited.

Sign up for the Dec. 1 USDA WS workshop at and the Dec. 2 community conversation workshop at

More on the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center:

The Hopland Research and Extension Center is a multi-disciplinary research and education facility run by the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources Division. As stewards of more than 5,300 acres of oak woodland, grassland, chaparral, and riparian environments their mission is to find better ways to manage our natural resources and conduct sustainable agricultural practices, through science, for the benefit of California's citizens.

Author: Hannah Bird

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 10:38 AM
Tags: coyotes (2), Hopland REC (2), Kim Rodrigues (1), sheep (3), wildlife (20)

Kearney Alfalfa Field Day Handouts and Presentations Posted to the Website

The handouts and presentations from the alfalfa field day held at the Kearney Research and Extension Center have been posted to the alfalfa website at Scroll down to find the links to the field day information located in the...

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 9:29 AM

Alfalfa YouTube Finalist

YouTube video showing how to identify parasitized caterpillars in alfalfa fields

We are excited to announce that our Alfalfa IPM YouTube video titled, “Identification of parasitized alfalfa caterpillars and armyworms”, was a finalist in the annual national Entomological Society of America YouTube Contest this week in...

YouTube video showing how to identify parasitized caterpillars in alfalfa fields
YouTube video showing how to identify parasitized caterpillars in alfalfa fields

Posted on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 4:20 PM

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