Chewing the fat: Calorie perception of hard and soft food differs

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers suggest hardness of foods influence our estimations of calorie content.
Researchers suggest hardness of foods influence our estimations of calorie content.

Related tags Perception Sense

People perceive foods that are hard to have fewer calories than soft equivalents, according to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“We studied the link between how a food feels in your mouth and the amount we eat, the types of food we choose, and how many calories we think we are consuming,”​ the authors said.

Participants overestimated the calorie count of hard chocolate by 55% more than those given soft chocolate, the paper entitled “The Effects of Oral Haptics on Mastication, Orosensory Perception and Calorie Estimation” said.

Calorie perception

The researchers asked sixty-five students from the University of South Florida, with an average age of 23 years and an almost 50-50 gender split, to estimate the calorie counts of hard and soft foods.

Half the participants were given specially-prepared hard chocolate and the other softened. Toothpicks were used to stop the participants from touching the chocolate and therefore isolating this as a test of oral sensory. Each chocolate was equal in weight (two grams) and calories (approximately 11), with a pre-test establishing they were the same in taste and appearance.

The results showed that merely by changing the hardness of the chocolate, the calorie estimate changed from about 65 to about 101, an increase of around 55%. However, considering the actual calorie count of the chocolate, even participants given the soft chocolate way over estimated calories, guesses averaging at around six times higher than the reality.

In a second test, the researchers recorded the number of chews when participants were eating their respective chocolate. They were then asked to rate the perceived fattiness of the chocolate on a seven-point scale. Again participants perceived the soft chocolate to be higher in calories.

The researchers said that these second results showed that mastication, or chewing, also played a role in this calorie perception.

Food for thought

The researchers said this could be useful to brands wanting to promote possible health benefits of their products. “Understanding how the texture of food can influence calorie perceptions, food choice, and consumption amount can help nudge consumers towards making healthier choices,”​ they said. 

Source: Journal of Consumer Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1086/675739

“Something to Chew On: The Effects of Oral Haptics on Mastication, Orosensory Perception, and Calorie Estimation”

Authors: D. Biswas, C. Szocs, A. Krishna and D. R. Lehmann

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