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Volume IV - 8.3 Understanding of Terminology

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Orientation and Training

Food and Drug Administration


Section 8 - Sensory Analysis

EFFECTIVE DATE: 10-01-03REVISED: 02-14-13

Sensory analysts should be familiar with definitions of some of the terms used in the sensory analysis of seafood, including the following:

Note – the terms odor and aroma are used interchangeably. List compiled by NMFS National Sensory Branch.

AppearanceAll the visible characteristics of a substance/sample.
Any person taking part in a sensory test.
BilgyThe aromatic associated with anaerobic bacterial growth, which is illustrated by the rank odor of bilge water. The term "bilgy" can be used to describe fish of any quality which has been contaminated by bilge water on board a vessel. Bilge water is usually a combination of salt water, fuel, and waste water.
BitterOne of the four basic tastes; primarily perceived at the back of the tongue; common to caffeine and quinine. There is generally a delay in perception (two-four seconds) and a lingering sensation in the mouth.
BrinyThe aroma associated with the smell of clean seaweed, a beach and/or ocean air.
BrothyAromatic associated with boiled meat usually accompanied by a umami sensation in the mouth.
BurntAromatic associated with heated, scorched, or blackened substances.
CardboardyAromatic associated with slightly oxidized fats or frozen fish that has taken on a "cold storage" off flavor; reminiscent of wet cardboard.
Carry-overA decrease in sensitivity to a given stimulus resulting from exposure to previous samples containing the same stimulus.
ChalkyIn reference to texture, a product which is composed of small particles which imparts a drying sensation in the mouth. In reference to appearance, a product which has a dry, opaque, chalk like appearance.
CheesySour aromatic associated with aged cheese and butyric acid.  Sometimes found in advanced decomposition of fish.
ChemicalA general term associated with many types of aromatic compounds such as solvents, cleaning compounds, and hydrocarbons.
ChickenyAromatic associated with cooked chicken white meat and breast.
CucumberThe aroma associated with fresh cucumber, similar aromas can be associated with certain species of very fresh raw fish.
DecomposeTo break down into component parts.
DecomposedFish that has an offensive or objectionable odor, flavor, colour, texture, or substance associated with spoilage.
DistinctCapable of being readily perceived.
Feedy"Feedy" is used to describe the condition of fish that have been feeding heavily. After death, the gastric enzymes first attack the internal organs, then the belly wall, then the muscle tissue. If the enzymes have penetrated into the flesh, they are capable of causing sensory changes characterized by soft, foul smelling, discolored muscle tissue. This odor may be associated with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMS), and may be attributed to certain zooplankton as it passes through the food chain. The odour of "feedy" fish has been described as similar to certain sulfur containing cooked vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, or cabbage.
FecalAroma associated with feces.  Sometimes found in very advanced decomposition of seafood.
FermentedSour, fruity aromatic associated with rotting fruit, vegetables, meat or seafood.
FirmA substance that exhibits moderate resistance when force is applied in the mouth or by touch.
FishMeans any of the cold-blooded aquatic vertebrate animals commonly known as such. This includes Pisces, Elasmobranchs and Cyclostomes. Aquatic mammals, invertebrate animals, and amphibians are not included.
FishyAroma associated with aged fish, as demonstrated by trimethylamine (TMA) or cod liver oil.  Seafood exhibiting this characteristic is of poor quality but may or may not indicate decomposition, depending on other aromatics present.
FlavorSensory perceptions when food is placed in the mouth resulting from the stimulation of basic tastes, aromatics, and feeling factors.
FreshnessConcept relating to time, process, or characteristics of seafood as defined by a buyer, processor, user, or regulatory agency.
FruityAroma associated with slightly fermented fruit. Term is used to describe odors resulting from high temperature decomposition in certain species of fish and is often described as cloying and sickly sweet/sour.  Most times there will also be an underlying sour odor.  One reference is propyl butyrate.
GameyThe aroma and/or flavor associated with the heavy, gamey characteristics of some species such as mackerel. Similar to the relationship of fresh duck meat as compared to fresh chicken meat.
GlossyA shiny appearance resulting from the tendency of a surface to reflect light.
GrainyA product in which the assessor is able to perceive moderately hard, distinct particles. Sometimes found in canned seafood or products that have been in frozen storage.
GrassyGreen, slightly sweet, aromatic associated with freshly cut grass or very fresh, high-quality finfish.  This aromatic is most prevalent in fresh water fish.
IntensityThe perceived magnitude of a sensation.
IridescentAn array of rainbow like colours, similar to an opal or an oil sheen on water.
MaskingThe phenomenon where one sensation obscures one or several other sensations.
MealyDescribes a product that imparts a starch-like sensation in the mouth.
MercaptanAromatic associated with sulfur compounds, reminiscent of skunk, brewing coffee, and rubber.
MetallicAroma and/or taste associated with ferrous (iron) sulfate, rust, or tin cans.
MoistThe perception of moisture being released from a product. The perception can be from water or oil.
MoldyAroma associated with moldy cheese or bread, or a wet moldy basement.
Motor oilA heavy greasy aroma, often oxidized and turpeny.
Mouth coatingThe perception of a film in the mouth.
Mouth fillingThe sensation of a fullness dispersing throughout the mouth. A umami sensation, as stimulated by mono sodium glutamate (MSG).
MushySoft, thick, pulpy consistency. In seafood little or no muscle structure discernible when force is applied by touch or by mouth.
MustyThe aromatic associated with a moldy, dank cellar or attic.
Chemical "feeling" factor described as a warmth or burning or irritating sensation in the nasal passages when a product is sniffed.
OdorSensation due to stimulation of the olfactory receptors in the nasal cavity by volatile material. Same meaning as aroma.
Off odorAtypical (usually unpleasant) characteristics often associated with deterioration or transformation of a flavor product.  Off odors and flavors most often linger in the nose and/or mouth.
OpaqueDescribes product which does not allow the passage of light. In raw muscle tissue of fishery products, this is usually due to the proteins loosing their light reflecting properties due to falling pH.  Fish flesh becomes more opaque as it deteriorates.
OxidizedAromatic associated with old oil that is stale or cardboardy.  Leaves a lingering off flavor in the mouth or nasal cavity that is moderately lingering and coating.
PastyA product which sticks together like paste in the mouth when mixed with saliva. Forms a cohesive mass which may adhere to the soft tissue surfaces of the mouth or fingers.
PersistentExisting without significant change; not fleeting.
PungentAn irritating, sharp, or piercing sensation felt in the nose, mouth or throat.
PutridAroma associated with decayed, rotting meat.  Aroma is lingering and often gives a heavy, cloying nose and throat feel.
QualityA degree of excellence. A collection of characteristics of a product that confers its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.
RancidOdor or flavor associated with rancid oil. Gives a mouth-coating sensation and/or a tingling perceived on the back of the tongue. Sometimes described as "sharp" or "painty".
ReferenceEither a sample designated as the one to which others are compared, or another type of material used to illustrate a characteristic or attribute.
ResinousMedicinal, woody aromatic, usually with a nose-feel.  Pine is an example.
RottingAroma associated with decayed vegetables, in particular the sulfur containing vegetables, such as cooked broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower.
RubberyA resilient material which may be deformed under pressure, but returns to its original form once the pressure is released.
SaltyThe taste on the tongue associated with salt or sodium.
SensoryRelating to the use of the sense organs.
SlimyA fluid substance which is viscous, slick, elastic, gummy, or jelly-like.
SolventA general term, used to describe many classes of solvents, such as acetone, isopropyl alcohol, turpentine, etc.. May be reminiscent of chemical solvents, plasticizers, and lighter fluid or paint aromas.
SolventyOdor and/or nose "feel" or flavor associated with solvents such as acetone.
SourAn odor and/or taste sensation, generally due to the presence of organic acids.
StaleOdor associated with wet cardboard or frozen storage.
STPSodium tripolyphosphate. Can produce a soapy, alkaline feel and taste in the mouth.
SulfuryOdor or flavor associated with sulfur-based materials such as matches, old garlic, onions, rotten eggs, broccoli, cabbage, mercaptans, or rubber.
SweetThe taste on the tongue associated with sugar or sucrose.
TasteOne of the senses, the receptors for which are located in the mouth and activated by compounds in solution. Taste is limited to sweet, salty, sour, bitter and sometimes umami.
TerminologyTerms used to describe the sensory attributes of a product.
ThroatburnOr "throatfeel." Degree to which an irritating and/or burning sensation is felt in the throat.
TranslucentDescribes an object which allows some light to pass, but through which clear images can not be distinguished (i.e. milk glass).  Very fresh, raw fish flesh is very translucent.
TransparentDescribes a clear object, which allows light to pass and through which distinct images appear (i.e. clear glass).
TurpenesAn oily compound found in citrus peel and resinous plants (pine).   Imparts a sharp, lingering, chemical type sensation.
UmamiTaste produced by substances such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) in solution.  A meaty, savory, or mouth filling sensation.
Vegetable(old, fermented, or rotten)  Odor associated with cooked or slightly spoiled sulfur-containing vegetables such as cooked broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower.
Vegetable(fresh)  Green and/or planty odor or flavor associated with fresh cut non-sulfur containing vegetables.
WatermelonAroma characteristic of fresh cut watermelon rind. Similar odors are sometimes found in certain species of very fresh raw fish.
YeastyAlso called "Fermented." Aroma associated with yeast and fermented products such as rising bread or beer.