Tastology: Hitting the sweet spot.
How to offer health benefits without compromising on taste.
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As consumers try to reduce their calorie intake by switching to “no-cal” and “low-cal” versions of their favourite soft drinks, the role of taste has never been more important.
Sugar in soft drinks is often blamed for contributing to increased obesity. The first diet cola was introduced in 1959, but it has only been in the past couple decades that diet drinks have become increasingly popular, as consumers try to reduce their calorie intake by switching to “no-call” and “low-call” versions of their favorite soft drinks. However, the speed of this switchover has been slowed by one word: taste.
What is taste?
Although highly complex, taste can be seen as a triangle. The three corners are flavor, sweetness and texture. A change to any one of the corners affects the other two. When producing reduced-calorie beverages, manufacturers typically lower the sugar content. It is common to add zero-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners to make up for the loss is sweetness. But swapping one sweetener for another alters the beverage’s taste in two ways. On one hand, it changes the flavor, so manufacturers add flavor modifiers to compensate for the loss of sweetness. On the other, it affects texture, prompting consumers to describe the drink as having a thin mouthfeel.
To address the problem of mouthfeel, manufacturers have for decades used rheology to measure the viscosity of the beverage and then made adjustments to the recipe, thinking that a thicker viscosity would remove the sensation of thinness. For example, gums are often added to diet beverages to create a level of viscosity on par with full calorie beverages. But in sensory testing, consumers complain that diet drinks
still lack body or richness despite having greater viscosity. Rheology, it seems, does not offer a complete picture of mouthfeel.
Mouthfeel refers to the tactile sensations perceived by the lining of the mouth, including the tongue, gums and teeth. Scientists working
at the Cargill Global Food Research Group set about finding a new way to model mouthfeel that went beyond rheology, to more accurately mimic what goes on inside the mouth when a beverage is consumed.
Their work led them to realize that when you swallow, the tongue rubs against the teeth, gums and roof of the mouth. This creates friction, and the beverage has a lubrifying effect between the tongue and the rest of the mouth, which affects mouthfeel. But how do you measure lubricity?
Cargill Global Food Research Group borrowed technology from a most unexpected place: the automotive industry. Carmakers use a science called tribology (the study of friction, lubrication and wear) to measure surfaces that interact together in relative motion, such as in automobile engines.
Using tribology, Cargill scientists are now able to predict and shape mouthfeel. The results of their predictions have been confirmed by extensive sensory and consumer testing conducted at North Carolina State University’s Sensory Science Center. The testing shows a direct connection between key mouthfeel sensations and consumer preference. It enables Cargill to create taste profiles based on consumer likings.
No more hit and miss
Until recently, creating new reduced calorie drinks has been a rather hit and miss process. There was no reliable
way to predict how customers would react to the taste and mouthfeel of a new beverage formulation. Enter Cargill’s new tribology technology, which takes into account all three corners of the taste triangle. This lets Cargill optimize the balance between the flavor, sweetness and mouthfeel of reduced calorie beverages to match the taste profiles preferred by consumers.
Marketed under the name TasteWise, this one-of-a-kind solution helps Cargill’s customers to greatly accelerate their product development cycles. It combines Cargill’s expertise in ingredients, formulation and taste prediction to redefine the way customers obtain the right taste profile for reduced calorie beverages, so that the customer can get their products to market faster.