The consumer interest in healthier food is growing and with it the demand for low salt, sugar and fat products. At the same time governments are inducing the food industry to reduce fat, salt and sugar significantly. These aspirations are not new and many food products have already been reformulated, for example by gradually reducing salt or sugar in their products in such a way that consumers are not aware of the reduction (stealth strategy).
In addition to this, sodium salts have been replaced by potassium salts, sugar by sweeteners such as stevia, and fat by protein- or starch-based fat replacers. Technologically, this now has reached its limit, while significant reductions are still demanded. A 50% reduction target or claims such as “no added” sugar or salt are becoming increasingly relevant for the next generation of healthy food products.
And at the same time – and this will never change – the consumer does not accept any compromise in taste. This calls for an innovative approach, a new approach that allows fast combining and screening of possible solutions bypassing multiple classic product development and consumer testing.
To achieve this, at Nizo food research, we have developed an experimental platform over the past five years. This has been built around a so-called olfactometer and a gustometer. The olfactometer technique allows for the timely dosing of aromas (retronasal or orthonasal delivery) into the nose of a person, mimicking the smell of a product. The gustometer will offer well-controlled taste stimuli to a person. In the picture above, a test person can be seen who is intubated and is instrumentally receiving flavours in the nose and taste in the mouth.
This, in combination with a person being asked to eat a standard food, allows for designing the best combination of multiple taste and aroma combinations. These flavours (taste and aroma) can be systematically varied in their compositions, intensity and timed perception. The latter has been shown to be very relevant considering that sensory satiation is strongly affected by the timed release of flavour stimuli. Long flavour release profiles (as observed from high fat products) provide a stronger satiation compared to that from low fat (short flavour release) products.
Combining low fat products with the flavour release profile of a high fat product, however, is judged inferior as a result of incongruence of both sensory stimuli. Consequently, food products in which the taste system has been significantly modified need sophisticated rebalancing of all of its sensory dimensions. Using this set-up, capable of virtually simulating food experiences, is very efficient in designing optimal consumer appreciation of a food product.
To measure the response of a person in an analytical instrumental way, this platform has been recently extended using techniques to analyse brain responses to map “wanting”.
Neuroimaging literature, mostly based on functional MRI scanning, has demonstrated the involvement of brain centres in the basal ganglia in the experience and the anticipation of reward. The anticipated reward of a person actually reflects, in a direct, non-verbal way, how much the person wants the stimulus that is shown. This response is non-voluntary and immediate.
We have succeeded in developing EEG-measures, eye tracking and pupil dilation measures and involuntary facial and manual response measures that reliably reflect those “wanting” responses. The beauty of this is that the response is independent of cultural differences in the way that people express their preference. No language is required to register the response of a person and no socially more acceptable answers can be given.
Besides food itself, food-related parameters can also be tested (for example packaging and the look and feel of the foods) and even marketing aspects of a products (such as a brand and concepts). The distribution pattern in the inset figure (above) shows a “high wanting” response. Using these techniques, recent projects which we have executed for customers showed successful reduction of salt by 50% in soups and ketchup without consumers being able to notice the difference between these and the original products. In another project, significant salt reduction was achieved in meat products by boosting the salty taste by applying aroma systems of well-chosen meat sources. This allowed the company to develop salt-replacer systems which do not need any form of declaration.
The development of this new generation of tasty and healthy products which have been significantly reduced in salt, sugar and/or fat needs advanced high tech tools. The examples above show it’s time to leave the simple solutions behind and embrace the next quantum leap in producing superior tasty healthy products.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020