Thierry Thomas-Danguin and his team of researchers, based at the Centre des Sciences du Goût de l’Alimentation in Dijon, France, have developed a device, the Gas Chromatograph-Olfactormetry Associated Taste (GC-OAT) which works at a molecular level by isolating certain food aroma compounds and selecting those that are responsible for the sweetness – such as esthers in apple juice that create the fruity odour – increased the perceived sweetness of the juice.
“They are natural compounds […] found in the real food aroma,” said Danguin.
The GC-OAT is used in conjunction with an olfactoscan, which delivers a stream of aromas to a subject’s nose using a tube, to alter their taste perception.
In experiments the French researchers were able to achieve up to 45% salt reduction, although the method is still at the experimental stage and has not yet been scaled up for industry.
“Most consumers know that they should be eating more healthful foods made with reduced amounts of fat, sugar and salt. But this is problematic because these are the very ingredients that make many of the foods we like taste so delicious,” said Thomas-Danguin, who presented his findings at the meeting of the American Chemical Society in August.
“Based on our lab work, we’ve come to believe that aromas can help compensate for the reduction of fat, sugar and salt in healthful foods and make them more appealing to consumers.”
The aim isn’t to start growing cauliflowers that smell like hamburgers but rather to help companies that have reformulated their products to contain less salt, sugar or fat.
“If you buy a product made with 30% less salt, and you don’t like it because it isn’t very tasty, what do you do? You’ll probably reach for the table salt and put some into the product,” says Thomas-Danguin. “So the target is missed. Our goal is to reformulate these foods so consumers like them as they are and will choose to eat them regularly.”
However, this flavour enhancement through associated smells may not work the same way everywhere.
FoodNavigator spoke to Alex Woo, CEO of W2O Food Innovation, at FiE last year who explained that vanilla is almost universally considered to be a sweet flavour and so can be used to enhance the sweetness of a product without increasing the sugar content, but in Japan vanilla is associated with savoury foods.
Scent has already crossed into the unlikely world of telecommunications – Japanese company Scentee has developed a device and app that allows smartphone users to tailor their text message notifications, Facebook ‘likes’ or morning alarm clock with different scents, from rosemary, coffee and strawberry and the next range due out in November set to include ribs and beef tongue – and so developing practical uses in the food industry seems less of a jump, according to Marius Robles, CEO and co-founder of Reimagine Food.
“We will start to find food packaging developing olfactory formulas that play with flavour,” Robles told FoodNavigator. “Or a phase where we visit a supermarket and augmented reality will allow us to see exclusively those products which match our favourite flavours or our genome or the media gallery of our smartphones.”
“[Another] trend delves into a far more transgressive and tricky terrain, involving genetic manipulation of food to ensure excellence and flavour. A new and revolutionary technology, CRISPR, now allows scientists to alter, delete and reorganise the DNA of virtually any living organism quickly and precisely.
“For example, it allows us to alter a fish species and 'produce' it with an ideal marketing size. My view is that we may even be able to produce a flavour adapted to the specific genome of each individual consumer.”
Food industry applications can also go beyond the novelty factor with practical, beneficial uses. In fact, this increasingly fluid sense of where flavour originates from is already being be used to promote more sustainable food choices.
“We are starting to question the sources of food themselves. Our current insatiable demand for meat every single day is unsustainable and must come to an end. Brands now have the opportunity to replace their animal-based ingredients with vegetable-based ones, without having to alter flavour or texture in most cases,” says Robles, pointing to companies like Impossible Foods’ meat-free burger or Hampton Creek’s egg-free mayonnaise.