Adjusted calcium and acidity levels could make creamier reduced-fat foods

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 26th March 2014
Reduced fat dairy that's still creamy?

Adjusting the calcium level and acidity could be the key to developing new better-tasting, more appealing looking and creamier reduced-fat sauces, desserts and salad dressings, according to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on 16 March 2014.

To date, a major problem with removing fat from these accompaniments has been that in addition to reducing calories, the process can negatively affect the flavour, appearance and texture. But based on recent research it may not be long before new, improved, lower-fat foods appear in grocery stores, according to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Reduced-fat without changing look and texture of food

In the laboratory study, the research team reduced the fat content and, therefore, calories in a model white sauce from 10 per cent to 2 per cent without sacrificing the look and feel of the food.

“By controlling pH and calcium content, we are able to regulate the interactions among fat droplets,” said Ms Bicheng Wu, a graduate student working on the project. “This makes them stick together and form flocs, or clumps. We believe the water trapped inside these flocs makes the sauce seem fattier than it really is and preserves the look, feel and flavour,” she said.

The researchers said fat plays various roles in determining the overall sensory attributes of food products.

“It carries flavours, so cutting the fat content lessens the intensity of the flavour,” Ms Wu said. “The appearings, meaning the opacity or lightness, of a food mixture largely depends on light scattering by fat droplets, so high fat content gives a milky appearance to a sauce or dressing,” she said.

Ms Wu also said that high fat content was related to the thick, smooth and creamy feel in the mouth of many products such as pudding, due to the effect of fat droplets on how the liquid flows.

While the task the research team set themselves was ‘daunting’, the researchers said they had had success.

“Often we see people reacting to the texture of our low-fat sauce sample even before they taste it,” Ms Wu said. “They say, ‘Wow! No way it’s only 2 per cent fat. It looks like custard. Can I try it?’, “ she said.

Fat affects feelings of ‘fullness’

Another problem with cutting the fat content is that it means people consuming the food do not feel as full, according to the researchers.

“Due to the high calorie count in fat and how the body digests it, fat also affects the feeling of satiety,” said Dr Julian Clements, PhD, and leader of the research team that conducted the study.

Dr McClements said the team soon plans extensive taste and smell tests.

“Then we will be able to adjust the composition and incorporate other seasoning ingredients into the foods,” Dr McClements said. “Since this fat reduction is easy for us now, and the fact that our new products contain healthy ingredients that can be used in a wide range of products, it means there’s a great potential to reach the market in the near future,” he said.

The study was supported by ConAgra Foods.