European consumers have never been better informed when it comes to the importance of nutrition. But while we are increasingly willing to pay a little extra for healthier products, we tend to be reluctant to compromise on taste.
This poses a challenge to the food industry, which wants to reformulate popular products to tap the lucrative healthy food market while still appealing to familiar taste buds. The EU-funded TERIFIQ project sought to address this challenge by testing and eventually bringing to market processing strategies to reduce fat, sugar and salt.
Credit: © Jacek Chabraszewski – fotolia.com
A key element has been identifying measures that can be easily adopted by small firms. Foods developed using TERIFIQ technology have been commercialized (semi-hard cheeses, Chorizo and dry sausages have already hit the shelves) while others are a step or two away from being brought to market. The results demonstrate that nutritious yet tasty foods are possible, and present a key market opportunity for small European businesses which represent over 98 % of the continent’s food manufacturing sector.
Passing the taste test
“Our overall objective was to achieve significant reductions in the sodium-fat and fat-sugar content of some of the most frequently consumed food products in Europe,” explains project coordinator Christian Salles from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France. “At the same time, of course, we had to ensure that the nutritional and sensorial qualities of these products – along with their safety and affordability – would mean that our innovations could be adopted at European scale. Most of the reformulated foods we developed were found to be at least as acceptable as the non-reformulated ones.”
The TERIFIQ project focused on four key food sectors: dairy, meat, bakery and ready-to-eat products. To begin with, several strategies for reducing salt, fat and sugar were explored, with particular emphasis on achieving binary reductions (salt-fat and sugar-fat, for example).
Fat, sugar and salt are not just about taste; they also play a key role in the consistency, mouthfeel, aroma and shelf-life of a product. This is a major challenge to food-makers, because any changes in the concentration or substitution of these ingredients affects a whole range of properties, such as texture and flavour perception.
The project team found that effective strategies tended to differ according to each type of food. Emulsions, for example, were successfully used to reduce fat and sodium in sauces by up to 50 %. “We also found that aromas can be added to reformulated foods, effectively enhance taste perception and thus enable fat, sugar and salt content to be lowered,” adds Salles. “We were able to achieve an 18 % reduction in the fat content of cooked meat products, without major changes in product quality. Meat pre-drying tests were also successful, achieving a 26 % sodium reduction in dry sausages.”
Sensory evaluations of these experimental sausages achieved positive results overall, while baking trials offered a better understanding of the functional roles of sugar and fat in muffins. When sugar content was reduced by 25 %, the texture was found to be chewier. However, a 25 % reduction in fat did not have a significant impact on texture properties or water content. For different types of cheeses, apart from soft spreadable cheese, salt levels were reduced without changing taste or acidification.
“Perhaps the next step could be to apply the strategies we developed for sodium, fat and sugar in this project to other foods, and to better understand the physio-chemical and physiological mechanisms involved in flavour perception,” says Salles.