Subjective or sensory tests rely on the opinions of selected individuals. There are two basic types of subjective tests: analytical and affective. Analytical tests are based on discernible differences, while affective tests are based on individual preferences. In both types of testing, food samples are presented to taste panel participants, who evaluate the foods according to specific standards for appearance, odour, taste, texture and sound.
The individuals on a taste panel can range from randomly selected members of the population to experts who are highly trained in tasting a particular food or beverage. Vintners and brewers rely on the latter types of skilled tasters to evaluate the proper timing for each step in the process of making wine or beer. The ability to detect slight differences in specific foods is a sought-after trait, prized so much that the taste buds of one gourmet ice cream taste expert are insured for $1 million.
General taste panels usually consist of at least five people who meet the following criteria: They are free of colds, chew no gum immediately before testing, have not ingested any other food for at least one hour before testing, are non-smokers, are not color blind, and have no strong likes or dislikes for the food to be tested. An equal distribution in gender is preferred, because women can usually detect sweetness better than men. Age distribution of the panel is also considered, since it may affect test results.