Can you taste the difference?

August 19th, 2015

Across the board supermarkets and food suppliers are increasingly coming under fire for the amount of added sugar some of their products contain. New guidance regarding the recommended daily intake of the sweet stuff indicates that most of us have being caving to our sweet tooth far too much for far too long. In fact, no more than 5% of our daily calories should come from added sugar. The BBC this week reported on what’s going on behind the scenes to try and alleviate the sugar epidemic.

According to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, food manufacturers across the UK are investing large amounts of time and effort in their attempts to make their food products healthier, and less saturated with sugar. This has involved enlisting expert help, and heading to the laboratory, to get into the real science of food production.

Marketing Sciences is a laboratory in Kent. They employ a team of ‘sensory panellists’: super ‘taste testers’ to you and I. The sensory panellists are responsible for sampling foods and providing feedback to manufacturers to enable them to alter the ingredients, or completely reformulate the product, without the public noticing a difference in taste. In this reformulation unhealthy ingredients, such as excess added sugar, are filtered out and replaced with healthier alternatives. This in turn leaves manufacturers with products that still provide the taste that consumers desire, but that are much more marketable due to not risking back lash or bad publicity in relation to high sugar ingredients. In addition to reducing sugar levels, Marketing Sciences are helping manufacturers to reduce their levels of salt and saturated fat as well.

So, how does a food tasting work? It’s fairly straightforward: a sample of the original product is placed alongside a small number of new versions of the product. Ingredients and quantities will have been altered to try and make the product healthier. The sensory panellists try each of the products in turn, and then individually rate them on a number of factors. As well as how much they actually enjoy the product, the panellists will be looking at factors such as texture, smell and specific flavours. Manufacturers are then able to use the findings to make further tweaks to the products until they have a healthier alternative to the original, but one which still scores highly in the taste league so that the original consumer base is maintained.

All this is great news for the consumer. It should mean that we can still enjoy some of our favourite products (always check the labels to be sure!), but without the increase to our waistlines or detrimental effect on our smiles. Added sugar in our foods is a major cause of tooth decay. Decay occurs because the acid in sugary food or drinks softens the enamel and dentine of the tooth. Over time, as we continue to consume these foods, small holes (cavities) start to appear in our teeth. These will time require filling, and if particularly bad could eventually lead to tooth loss.

In conclusion, whilst we are a little way off, it does seem like manufacturers are taking note of the new guidance regarding daily sugar intake. It seems that proactive steps are being taken towards altering products in order to make them healthier for us, but without compromising the taste and enjoyment we get from the product. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go. In order to maintain your perfect smile, keep any eye on the foods and drinks you consume. Check the sugar levels are going to keep you within the current guidelines, and if in doubt, switch to a lower sugar product.

To read the full BBC article about the work of the sensory panellist, click here.

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