New research questions how fat influences flavor perception

A joint study carried out by The University of Nottingham and the multinational food company Unilever has found for the first time that fat in food can reduce activity in several areas of the brain which are responsible for processing taste, aroma and reward.

The research, now available in the Springer journal Chemosensory Perception, provides the with better understanding of how in the future it might be able to make healthier, less products without negatively affecting their overall taste and enjoyment. Unveiled in 2010, Unilever's Plan sets out its ambition to help hundreds of millions of people improve their diet around the world within a decade.

This fascinating three-year study investigated how the brains of a group of participants in their 20s would respond to changes in the of four different fruit emulsions they tasted while under an . All four samples were of the same thickness and sweetness, but one contained flavour with no fat, while the other three contained fat with different flavour release properties.

The research found that the areas of the participants' brains which are responsible for the perception of flavour — such as the somatosensory cortices and the anterior, mid & posterior insula — were significantly more activated when the non-fatty sample was tested compared to the fatty emulsions despite having the same flavour perception. It is important to note that increased activation in these areas does not necessarily result in increased perception of flavour or reward.

Dr Joanne Hort, Associate Professor in Sensory Science at The University of Nottingham said: "This is the first brain study to assess the effect of fat on the processing of flavour perception and it raises questions as to why fat emulsions suppress the cortical response in brain areas linked to the processing of flavour and reward. It also remains to be determined what the implications of this suppressive effect are on feelings of hunger, satiety and reward."

Unilever food scientist Johanneke Busch, based at the company's Research & Development laboratories in Vlaardingen, Netherlands added: "There is more to people's enjoyment of food than the product's flavour — like its mouthfeel, its texture and whether it satisfies hunger, so this is a very important building block for us to better understand how to innovate and manufacture healthier which people want to buy."

More information: Eldeghaidy S et al (2012). Does fat alter the cortical response to flavour? is published in Chemosensory Perception; 10.1007/s12078-012-9130-z

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How the smell of food affects how much you eat

Mar 20, 2012

Bite size depends on the familiarly and texture of food. Smaller bite sizes are taken for foods which need more chewing and smaller bite sizes are often linked to a sensation of feeling fuller sooner. New research published ...

PhD student grows bell pepper with a hint of chilli

May 03, 2012

Martijn Eggink is cultivating a new bell pepper variety with an exotic flavour. This is the basis for his PhD research at Wageningen UR, in which he will correlate the flavour of the bell pepper to sugars, acids and aroma ...

Knowing yeast genome produces better wine

Jun 04, 2012

The yeast Dekkera bruxellensis plays an important role in the production of wine, as it can have either a positive or a negative impact on the taste. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, among others, have analyzed the ye ...

Dementia takes away the meaning of flavors

May 10, 2010

Flavour is literally the spice of life and for many people life without the pleasures of the table would be unthinkable. Yet just this aspect of everyday life is vulnerable in certain degenerative dementias, with patients ...

Recommended for you

UK court to rule on landmark 'pregnancy crime' case

1 hour ago

A British court is to rule on whether a woman committed a "crime of violence" against her child by drinking heavily during pregnancy, in a case that has raised concerns about criminalising mothers.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.