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ACS Meeting News: Aromas could help us eat healthy

by Michael Torrice
August 24, 2016

Aromas from sardines, butter, and fruit juices can enhance salty, fatty, and sweet flavors, respectively. Credit: Shutterstock<
Aromas from sardines, butter, and fruit juices can enhance salty, fatty, and sweet flavors, respectively. Credit: Shutterstock<

Salt, fat, and sugar aren’t the cornerstones of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, greasy, salty potato chips and gooey chocolate-chip cookies taste pretty amazing.

To help us eat less salt, fat, and sugar but not sacrifice taste, a group of researchers in France want to enlist our noses.

At the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia on Monday, the scientists described how adding certain scents to foods enhanced their perceived saltiness. The team also reported a new technique to identify aroma molecules that boost desirable flavors.

The goal, says Thierry Thomas-Danguin of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research is to help food producers make low-salt, low-fat, or low-sugar versions of products that still taste like the originals. Often, when a healthier version of a food doesn’t taste the same as the original, consumers reject it, Thomas-Danguin says. On the one hand, the consumer might stop buying the product and change to another one with a higher amount of salt, he says. “Or they could use table salt at home, and in that case, you still don’t reduce the daily intake of sodium.”

Aromas can boost flavors, because our brains construct perceptions of how a food tastes from multiple sensory inputs, Thomas-Danguin says. What we experience as a flavor depends not only on taste information from our tongues but also on scent information from our noses, as well as other sensations from nerves in our mouths.

Thomas-Danguin and his colleagues have focused on aromas, such as those of ham, bacon, and sardines, that can enhance the salty flavor of foods. During a talk in the Agricultural & Food Chemistry Division, he discussed his team’s recent studies involving what he calls model foods. “In one case, it’s cheese, but not like cheese you find at the market,” he says. “It’s cheese we cook by ourselves so we can control several parameters.”

In a study of model cheese, the team found that sardine and butter aromas could compensate for a reduction in salt and fat content, respectively. In another study, the team made a flan-like custard with salt concentrated in one layer and a ham aroma added to another. This custard tasted as salty as a custard with 40% more salt, according to a panel of tasters.

RELATED: What Makes Truffles So Enticing, And Are Foodies Unwittingly Enjoying Synthetic Scents?

All of these studies have used commercially available aromas. Thomas-Danguin and colleagues now want to find new ones by isolating aroma molecules from foods.

To do so, they’ve developed a technique involving gas chromatography and a device called an olfactoscan that wafts odors into people’s noses. The scientists have used the method to isolate several aroma molecules from fruit juices that enhance sweetness.

The researchers use gas chromatography to separate aroma molecules from the gases that sit above juice, also known as the headspace. Instead of an analytical device sitting at the end of the chromatograph, the scientists ask a panel of people to sniff the aroma molecules coming out of the machine and associate them with a specific flavor. After further tests, including adding the aroma molecules back to the juice one at a time, the team settles on compounds that enhance the flavor they’re targeting.

Besides continuing to find ways to enhance flavors via aromas, Thomas-Danguin and his team plan to further study the mechanisms behind how our brains process sensory information to construct our experiences of flavors.


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