A demonstration on the perception of the taste of water, presented by the CSTB

Testing the Taste of Water” workshop at the CSTB's stand, at Batimat 2017. Photo: Gaëlle Magder / Atelier Diptik

How does water taste to you? That's the question that was asked by the CSTB's experts in charge of sensory and physiological measurements, at Batimat. Using smell and taste sensors, the public was able to discover how the nervous system perceives the organoleptic qualities of water.

Using sensors placed on a finger to measure heart rate, sweating and skin microcirculation, participants discovered a new way of tasting water. “Although this device reminds people of the lie detector, makes them curious and gets them asking a lot of questions, the main thing to remember is that it enables us to measure differences in water quality that conventional sensory tests do not detect,” explained Aurélie Tricoire, Water Division at the CSTB.

The system records variations in the organoleptic perception of water, in other words, the substances capable of activating the odor and taste receptors in the human body. “Some people are more sensitive than others: some will react very strongly, whereas others will have barely perceptible responses,” added Aurélie Tricoire. The test is a spontaneous reaction measured by the instrument, which, in addition to surpassing the measurement thresholds of conventional instruments, detects differences between two different types of water, which a person is incapable of detecting consciously with his or her sense of smell or taste alone.

A patented method

This innovative, objective multi-criteria sensory measurement method was patented in 2015 as part of the thesis of Gwénaëlle Haese, a Research & Test engineer at the CSTB. The method is based on the fact that the human sensory system is the most sensitive and suitable system for assessing the organoleptic characteristics of a product. The originality of this method lies in the use of ad hoc physiological indicators to objectively and quickly characterize the qualities of a product in terms of taste and smell.

This method makes it possible to measure the comfort and wellbeing of users the moment the water comes out of the faucet. It also offers the possibility of linking water quality to its production parameters, so that action can be taken at the source or in the distribution system. The sensory measurements can help identify problems that affect the taste and smell of water both during production (treatment) and distribution (the materials comprising the systems and fixtures). These issues are hard to detect using conventional tests, but using physiological reactions, more subtle responses are identified, and each user's satisfaction can be measured in real terms.

Developments are planned to broaden this approach to other sensory stimuli (sight, touch, hearing, etc.), with the aim of using this new method in other applications and industrial sectors concerned by comfort and wellbeing (the construction industry, but also the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, virtual reality, personal services, etc.).

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