UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Adding vanilla to sweetened milk makes consumers think the beverage is sweeter, allowing the amount of added sugar to be reduced, according to Penn State researchers, who will use the concept to develop a reduced-sugar chocolate milk for the National School Lunch Program.
"We are utilizing a learned association between an odor and a taste that will allow us to reduce the added sugar content," said Helene Hopfer, assistant professor of food science. "Reducing added sugar in products, just like reducing fat and salt, is the holy grail of food science."
The idea that congruent or harmonious odors enhance certain tastes is not new, explained Hopfer, whose research group in the College of Agricultural Sciences has been experimenting with these "cross-modal interactions" in food since she came to Penn State three years ago. Her goal is to see them actually incorporated into foods.
In a blind taste test that provided new insights into taste enhancement by an aroma, participants — who did not know vanilla had been added to the milk — consistently indicated that samples with vanilla were significantly sweeter than their added sugar concentrations could explain.