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Modified food gels could cut sugar without impacting sweet taste

By Nathan Gray , 14-Nov-2011

Manipulation of food texture combined with greater control of the spatial distribution of sucrose could help to design foods that meet the demand for healthier low-sugar products, according to new research.

Writing in the journal LWT – Food Science and Technology, researchers from the Netherlands, investigated how the distribution of sucrose and the differing mechanical and breakdown properties of a food matrix affect the perception of sweet flavour.

Led by Dr Markus Stieger of Wageningen University and TI Food and Nutrition, the team reported that the perception of sweetness in foods can be enhanced by modifying the structural and textural properties of the food matrices.

“There is a great interest in reducing the amounts of sugar and salt in food products due to the rising awareness of health issues related to the high intake of these tastants,” said Stieger and his colleagues.

“Because consumers are sensitive to small changes in sensory properties such as taste, flavour and mouthfeel, the development of low-sugar and low-salt food products remains a challenge for food manufacturers,” they explained.

The researchers said that findings from their study suggest that the breakdown behaviour of a gel matrix during oral processing affects the perception of sweetness, adding that manufacturers could use such knowledge to develop lower sugar foods that still match on sweetness intensity.

Research details

It is well known that changes in the textural properties of food matrices can result in enhancement or suppression of flavour or taste intensities. Such studies have shown that the textural properties of a food matrix play an important role in the perception of taste.

However, the researchers noted that a better understanding of how these properties can be modulated to enhance taste intensity could contribute to the development healthier foods and beverages – such as those low in sugar or salt.

As a result, Stieger and his colleagues set out to investigate the effects of texture (soft, medium and hard gels), and of spatial distribution of sucrose homogeneous and inhomogeneous distributions) on the perceived sweetness intensity of layered gels.

The authors reported that all gels with an inhomogeneous distribution of sucrose were perceived sweeter than gels in which sucrose was homogeneously distributed.

“This indicates that the enhancement of sweetness by an inhomogeneous distribution of sucrose does not depend on the texture of the gel matrix,” explained the researchers.

Although gel texture was found to have no affect on overall sweetness intensity ratings, Stieger and his team reported that the breakdown behaviour of the matrix during oral processing affected temporal aspects of sweetness perception.

They added that soft gels, which had low values of fracture strain and fracture stress and broke down in a large number of small fragments upon chewing, had the highest sweetness intensity. The time required to reach the maximum sweetness intensity tended to be shorter in soft gels, they added.

Source: LWT - Food Science and Technology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.lwt.2011.10.009
“Effect of gel texture and sucrose spatial distribution on sweetness perception”
Authors: A.C. Mosca, F. van de Velde, J.H.F. Bult, M. A.J.S. van Boekel, M. Stieger

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