Sugar, salt and fat reduction have topped the research agenda for most large food companies for years – but when it comes to replicating the flavour of these crucial ingredients, it’s still early days.
Technologies for producing low salt, fat and sugar products that taste similar to their full-fat, salt and sugar counterparts have multiplied, but developing replacers that taste exactly like the ingredients they are intended to replace has proven elusive – and consumption of sugar, salt and saturated fat has remained high.
"Replacement can lead to undesirable flavours, requesting the use of masking chemical agents to hide them,” explains JoséManuel Barat Baviera, head of the food technology department at the Polytechnic university of Valencia in Spain, speaking to European Research Media Centre, Youris.com.
Due to the harmful effects of excessive fat, sugar and salt consumption, the European Union has funded several ongoing projects that seek to cut intakes through multi-sensorial innovation. TeRiFiQ, for example, aims to combine salt, sugar and fat reduction technologies, while also retaining foods’ nutritional and sensory qualities.
Of course, there are plenty of ingredients that come close, but according to director of the project, Christian Salles, the technologies are still evolving.
“As salt interacts with aromas, replacement modifies the sensory perception of the product. So, it is very difficult to keep the original taste of the product unchanged,” he said.
In the case of salt, spraying microcrystals on the surface of a snack product is one technology that aims to retain salty flavour with a lower amount of salt, and a similar concept has been trialled to reduce fat. Cryocristallisation involves spraying frozen fat into the food to distribute it evenly, which could – at least theoretically – mimic the flavour and sensory experience of higher fat contents.
“So far, it hasn't worked. After a while, the fat comes out the product,” he told youris.com. “Besides, this technology is very expensive.”
The project also aims to explore the potential of sugar substitutes, including stevia extracts.
TeRiFiQ is a four-year research project that started in January 2012. From 2015, manufacturing partners involved in the project will start testing new approaches to sugar, fat and salt reduction, with the aim that they will eventually be used in finished products, including baked goods, meat products, cheeses and ready-to-eat meals.