Food Flavor And Texture Are Important For Our Senses
October 31, 2012

The Thicker The Food, The Fuller We Become

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The act of taking food into our bodies for nourishment and replenishment isn´t often a bland and robotic affair. While we instinctually know when we should eat and that we should eat, there are feelings involved: Sights, sounds, smells, and textures all play a part in how a meal tastes.

Though they have the same nutritional value, one meal may FEEL more appetizing and satisfying that another based on a number of variables. Two of these variables, says Keri McCrickerd from the University of Sussex, are flavor and texture. According to McCrickerd´s research, people expect thicker and creamier foods to not only be more filling, but to have a higher caloric count as well. By manipulating these variables, people can be tricked into thinking they´ve had a substantial meal, when they´ve only had a low-cal yogurt shake.

Dieters often want to have their cake and eat it to. Many have turned to low calorie diets in order to bring their pant sizes down. Low calorie food, however, has a tendency to leave a person hungry again shortly after the meal. Many would rather have the satisfaction of knowing they´ve eaten a healthy meal as well as the satisfaction of feeling full. Therefore, many scientists and researchers have begun to debate if altering the way a food feels in the mouth will make a person feel fuller, longer, even if they´ve only had a low-cal meal.

To test this theory, McCrickerd concocted a thick and creamy, yet low calorie yogurt shake. In order to get the same texture as a high calorie shake, McCrickerd used tara gum, a thickening agent which did not affect the overall flavor of the shake.

In the first test, McCrickerd and team wanted to determine if any of the subjects were able to distinguish a difference in texture and a difference in flavor as well. Though they weren´t trained food testers, these participants were able to distinguish the thickened, tara gum shake from a thinner beverage, but did not notice a difference in flavor.

With this pivotal first step completed, the researchers then moved on to the second stage of the test: asking the subjects to measure how full they thought they´d be after drinking the shakes. The participants were asked to select a portion of pasta they thought would be comparable to drinking one of the shakes. Across the board, the participants expected the thicker shakes to be more filling and leave them feeling more satisfied than thinner, less creamy shakes.

Interestingly, only the thick shakes were expected to suppress hunger over an extended period of time. Those who had the creamier shakes did not expect the drink to leave them feeling full for very long.

“Hunger and fullness are complicated issues because it is not just the calories in a food or drink that make it filling,” explained McCrickerd in a prepared statement.

“Signals from the stomach are important but so too is how the drink feels in the mouth. In our study both creamy flavor and texture affected expected fullness, but only thickness seemed to affect whether hunger was expected to be satisfied.”

McCrickerd suggested that we associate thick foods, such as burgers, pastas and the like, with filling foods.

“Consumer expectations are important and our study shows that consumers are sensitive to subtle changes in oral sensory characteristics of a drink, and that thick texture and creamy flavor can be manipulated to enhance expectations of fullness and satiety regardless of calories.”

McCrickerd´s research has been published in the open access journal from BioMed, Flavour.