New Device Could Make Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Foods Taste Way Better

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By Gillie Houston Posted August 23, 2016

The key to this mental manipulation: natural aromatic molecules.

It's no secret that foods low in sugar fat, and salt are better for you—but when it comes to taste they typically can't compete. Until now. A group of scientists is developing a new device that replicates the flavors and sensation of eating cakes, cookies and more of our favorite sweets without all the sugar.

Presenting the device at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers unveiled a new technology which they say can trick your brain into believing a dessert has a higher sugar, salt or fat content. The key to this mental manipulation lies within natural aromatic molecules, which play an important role in the taste perception of food. According to Science Daily, food scientists have been manipulating the aroma of foods for years—using essential oils, botanical extracts, and chemicals in order to enhance the flavors. However, up until now the focus hasn't been put fully on making blander, low-sugar foods taste as good as their sweet counterparts.

"Most consumers know that they should be eating more healthful foods made with reduced amounts of fat, sugar, and salt," says researcher Thierry Thomas-Danguin, Ph.D. "But this is problematic because these are the very ingredients that make many of the foods we like taste so delicious." In order to tackle this problem, Thomas-Danguin and his team worked with these natural aromas, saying, "we've come to believe that aromas can help compensate for the reduction of fat, sugar, and salt in healthful foods and make them more appealing to customers."

Thomas-Danguin has conducted previous studies on this topic, including one that asked participants to taste flan made in layers, each of which contained varying amounts of ham aroma and salt. When tasting the layers enhanced with the aroma—which contained no added salt—participants perceived it to be saltier, illustrating the powerful influence these natural scents have on the sense of taste.

Now, Thomas-Danguin and his fellow researchers are working to develop a device that isolates sweeter aroma molecules to be used in tandem with an olfactoscan—a tool which delivers a stream of aromas to the nose—when blander foods are consumed to give the illusion of a higher level of sweetness. The device, which is being called the Gas Chromatograph-Olfactometry Associated Taste, will potentially help food manufacturers create more healthful goods without losing the flavor of more sugary baked goods.

While the tool is still in its early testing stages, one day soon everyone may be able to have their sugar-free cake and eat it, too.

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