Writing in the Journal of Sensory Studies, scientists from North Carolina State University report that their data shows that consumers will not accept lower fat Cheddar or mozzarella cheeses if the flavor and texture differ from the full-fat cheese, “even if those differences are small”, they said.
“For a true low-fat version of Cheddar cheese to have widespread consumer appeal, significant changes in flavor and texture are required,” wrote Jessica Childs and Maryanne Drake from NCSU’s Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center.
“If manufacturers are able to provide this product, consumers will be able to purchase and consume a lower fat cheese that they enjoy and feel good about eating,” they added.
Childs’ and Drake’s statements are based on data from an analysis surveys for mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses, which involved 171 and 179 consumers, respectively.
“[The] results confirm that most consumers are not willing to sacrifice flavor or texture for fat reduction in cheeses,” they report.
Commenting on the implications of their findings, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based researchers note that the results “will help cheese manufacturers understand what changes need to be made in order to successfully develop a lower fat cheese that will appeal to consumers”.
Growing waistlines, growing market
With obesity rates soaring across the globe, and led by the US, the market for reduced- and low-fat products is growing.
Low-fat cheese is growing strongly in popularity as consumers increasingly focus on healthy diets. More than twice as many new low-fat cheeses were introduced in 2007 compared to 2005, according to data supplied by market research firm Mintel to Danish company Chr Hansen. In the last quarter of 2007, nearly 90 new low fat cheese products were introduced globally, says Mintel.
Despite the growth, the results of Childs and Drake suggest that acceptance of low-fat cheese products remains limited by the fact that removal or reduction of fat adversely affecting both texture and flavor. To overcome such obstacles, food scientists have followed several approaches: use of alternative or selective starter cultures, the use of adjunct cultures, or the use of fat replacers.
The scientists define reduced fat cheese as having at least 25 percent less fat than the full fat reference cheese, while low-fat cheese as having at least three grams less of fat per reference amount. This “equates to more than a 75 per cent fat reduction for Cheddar cheese”, they said.
Source: Journal of Sensory Studies
Volume 24, Issue 6, Pages 902-921, doi: 10.1111/j.1745-459X.2009.00243.x
“Consumer perception of fat reduction in cheese”
Authors: J.L. Childs, M. Drake