Fat in foods has a direct impact on taste perception by activating certain regions of the brain that control taste, aroma, and ‘reward’, say researchers.
The study, conducted by The University of Nottingham and the multinational food company Unilever, is published in the Springer journal Chemosensory Perception.
The three year study found that fats in food can reduce activity in these regions of the brain, thus influencing how flavors are perceived.
The findings could help the food industry develop healthier, less fatty food products without adversely affecting their overall taste or enjoyment.
The researchers set out to determine how the brains of a group of participants respond to changes in the fat content of four different fruit emulsions they tasted while under an MRI scanner.
According to the team, all samples were of the same thickness and sweetness, but one contained flavor with no fat, while the others contained fat with different flavor release properties.
They found that when the non-fatty sample was tasted, regions of the participants’ brains which control perception of flavor – such as the somatosensory cortices and the anterior, mid & posterior insula – were significantly more activated than when the fatty emulsions were tasted, even though they had the same flavor perception.
The team highlight that increased activation in these regions of the brain does not necessarily result in increased perception of flavor or reward.
Dr Joanne xc, Associate Professor in Sensory Science at The University of Nottingham, explained:
“This is the first brain study to assess the effect of fat on the processing of flavor perception and it raises questions as to why fat emulsions suppress the cortical response in brain areas linked to the processing of flavor 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, said: “There is more to people’s enjoyment of food than the product’s flavor – 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 food products which people want to buy.”
Written by Grace Rattue