Wednesday May 30, 2012 | 02:57 PM

Sensory science - a scientific method to analyze and interpret a response through a person's sense of touch, taste, sight, smell or sound - is a really interesting field of study. A lot goes in to taste testing new food products before they hit the market. I am not sure I fully understood this process until my kids attended a 4-H workshop with Dr. Beth Calder from UMaine's Food Science program to learn about sensory science. They were looking forward to the class because it involved Oreos.

The object of the "blind" sensory test was to determine which of the three Oreo cookies was different from the others. Dr. Calder encouraged the kids to pay attention to every little detail of their cookie - from the crunch of the bite to the overall texture and taste as well as any other nuances they could uncover with all of their senses.

To make the test unbiased, each Oreo was labeled with a number. To make it a scientifically accurate blind test, not all the numbers were the same for each taste tester. This was to discourage the kids from influencing each other. So even if a tester wanted to check out their neighbor's results, they couldn't because they didn't all have the same sample numbers to compare.

In reality there were only two types of Oreos given to the kids - a "low fat" Oreo and an "original" Oreo. Some kids were given two low fat and one original cookie; others were given two original and one low fat. The key to the test was to determine – by random sample which was 20 taste testers in this case – what percentage could figure out which cookie was different.

The kids were encouraged to take a small bite of each cookie and then take sips of water in between samples. It seemed to me that all the kids thought it would be easy to tell the difference between the low fat and original cookies. But that was not the case. The cookies tasted very similar and looked nearly identical.

But in the end it turned out that a "statistically significant" number (just barely, though) of taste testers identified the odd Oreo (adults tried this as well and only a couple of them got it right). A few of the kids noticed that the logo embossed on one cookie was more defined than the other. Others noticed the color of the creme was slightly different between the two samples. But these very small details were only realized after several mini bites and much deliberation about their cookies. A couple of kids said in the end they simply guessed because they really couldn't tell the difference.

I bet if the Oreo folks attended our workshop, they'd have been pretty happy with the results. After all, developing a low fat cookie that even Oreo-loving kids can't distinguish from the real thing is a big plus.

After this workshop my kids were inspired to buy more Oreos. We discovered that there are many more flavors now than the two they tried with their 4-H friends. Since Oreo celebrated its 100-year anniversary this past March, they've released a variety of flavors to celebrate. I was amazed to see on the Oreo website how many flavor varieties are on the market right now.

My 16-year-old is a big fan of the Birthday Cake version of the cookie.

My 14-year-old really likes strawberry and thought the Berry Burst was tasty.

And in case you didn't realize, you can do a whole lot more than eat an Oreo cookie straight-up. The Oreo website offers plenty of recipes that involve the cookie.

I think I'm a traditionalist (or old codger) because if I want to eat an Oreo, I want the regular old flavor. How about you... any new favorite flavors?

About the Author

Wendy Almeida has been writing about enjoying the outdoors with kids in her monthly Kid Tracks Outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 10 years. Her kids have grown up exploring the trails of Maine on foot, skis and bikes as well as through the geocache and EarthCache games. The family has found treasures of all sorts while out on the trail and the journey continues to be as much fun now that the kids are teenagers as it was when they were preschoolers.

On Twitter and Instagram at @wea1021.

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