There is a considerable rise in obesity within Europe which is driving a consumer need for processed food and beverages that have health and vitality benefits. Food companies are under increasing pressure to significantly reduce sugar, fat and salt levels, as well as formulate products that target specific consumer groups for nutritional efficacy. However, the replacement of such ingredients with healthier alternatives, or inclusion of benefit agents, typically renders a product unacceptable to consumers due to mouth feel and taste considerations.
The physical origin of mouth feel and taste is from the dynamic response of products between oral biosurfaces. During oral processing, such products which are typically multi-phased complex fluids and soft solids are sheared and compressed, while various components may deposit onto oral surfaces and/or disrupt salivary films. At the same time, saliva is secreted into the oral cavity for mixing and reacting with the food/beverage. The resulting product is confined to very thin films between soft rubbing surfaces (i.e. the tongue and palate), which determines oral lubricity and thus mouthfeel and textural attributes of food, as well as mass transport of tastants to receptors on the tongue and aromas to olfactory receptors in the nose.
The development of techniques to characterise the dynamic behaviour of complex fluids under confinement in response to this environment will lead to the ability to create new design rules for controlling the sensorial response of consumer products with healthier compositions, enabling enhancement of quality and nutritional value. To achieve this we require the combination of world leading expertise in surface science and oral protein chemistry from the YKI Institute of Surface Chemistry with the expertise in soft-tribology, rheology and sensory science of consumer products at the Unilever Corporate Research.
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