"We are utilizing a learned association between an odor and a taste that will allow us to reduce the added sugar content," said Helene Hopfer, assistant professor of food science. "Reducing added sugar in products, just like reducing fat and salt, is the holy grail of food science."
The idea that congruent or harmonious odors enhance certain tastes is not new, explained Hopfer, whose research group in the College of Agricultural Sciences has been experimenting with these "cross-modal interactions" in food since she came to Penn State three years ago. Her goal is to see them actually incorporated into foods.
Taste - Test - Insights - Taste - Enhancement
In a blind taste test that provided new insights into taste enhancement by an aroma, participants -- who did not know vanilla had been added to the milk -- consistently indicated that samples with vanilla were significantly sweeter than their added sugar concentrations could explain.
The subjects' responses indicate that with the addition of vanilla, the added sugar content in flavored milk could potentially be reduced by 20 to 50 percent, suggested lead researcher Gloria Wang, and people should not be able to perceive the beverage as less sweet.
Sweetness - Perception - Congruent - Odor - Odor
"We maintain the sweetness perception by having this congruent odor -- this learned, associated odor -- basically trick the brain into thinking that there is still enough sweetness there," she said. "Based on our results, taste-aroma interaction is a robust effect."
Wang, now an associate scientist in product development with Leprino Foods Co. in Colorado, conducted the research at Penn State as part of her master's degree thesis in food science. She tested not only congruent taste-aroma combinations but incongruent combinations as well. It turned out that even a beef odor in milk slightly enhanced sweetness for study participants.
Given widespread concerns...
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