In what could prove to be a major boon for thousands of dieters worldwide, researchers may have found a way to reduce fats in desserts without compromising on their flavor, texture or appearance.
The key to developing new, better-tasting, more eye-appealing and creamier reduced-fat sauces, desserts and salad dressings could lie in adjusting their calcium and acidity levels, according to a new study.
The study was conducted as part of the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.
As part of the study, the team reduced the fat content and calories in a model white sauce from 10 percent to 2 percent without sacrificing the look and feel of the food, an ACS statement said.
"By controlling pH and calcium content, we are able to regulate the interactions among fat droplets," Bicheng Wu, a graduate student and a member of the study team, was quoted as saying.
"This makes them stick together and form flocs, or clumps. We believe the water trapped inside these flocs makes the sauce seem fattier than it really is and preserves the look, feel and flavor."
Wu explained that fat plays various roles in determining the overall sensory attributes of food products.
"It carries flavors, so cutting the fat content lessens the intensity of the flavor. The appearance, meaning the opacity or lightness, of a food mixture largely depends on light scattering by fat droplets, so high fat content gives a milky appearance to a sauce or dressing."
She added that high fat content is also related to the thick, smooth and creamy feel in your mouth of many products, like pudding, due to the effect of fat droplets on how the liquid flows.
Yet another problem with cutting the fat content is that it doesn't make people feel as full, said D. Julian McClements of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and team leader.
"Due to the high calorie count in fat and how the body digests it, fat also affects the feeling of satiety," Wu said.
"Often we see people reacting to the texture of our low-fat sauce sample even before they taste it," he said. "They say, 'Wow! No way it's only 2 percent fat. It looks like custard! Can I try it?'"
McClements said the team soon plans extensive taste and smell tests. "Then we will be able to adjust the composition and incorporate other seasoning ingredients into the foods.
"Since this fat reduction is easy for us now, and the fact that our new products contain healthy ingredients that can be used in a wide range of products means there's a great potential to reach the market in the near future."