Food structure, oral processing and sensory perception

This research theme within the Division of Human Nutrition and Health focusses on the interplay between food structure, oral processing behaviour and dynamic sensory perception. The combination of food sciences with sensory science is essential to this research theme. The theme connects the expertise of the Division of Human Nutrition with the Food Quality Design and Food Physics groups. The theme is led by Dr. Markus Stieger.

The demand of society for healthier foods continues to increase. The challenge for food industry is to alter the composition of its foods to develop healthier products such as salt, sugar, fat and calorie reduced products while maintaining sensory quality and consumer acceptance. A fundamental understanding of interrelations between composition, structure and perception of foods is greatly needed to tackle this challenge.

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Food texture is one of the most important factors determining food choice. Texture is a sensory property consumers assign to foods on the basis of how the senses of vision, touch and hearing interact during oral processing. Texture can only be understood based on physical and physiological properties that explain how food structure is sensed during oral processing.

Research topics

Food structure, oral breakdown and bolus formation

The research theme focuses on the influence of food structure and food oral processing on sensory perception and preference of foods and beverages. Major challenges in this area include the translation of the scientific knowledge to technologies which can be applied by food industry. The aim of the research theme is to deliver the scientific knowledge on how food structure is converted into dynamic texture perception by food oral processing. This knowledge is essential to emphasize or prevent specific textural attributes. Consequently, the knowledge is needed by the food industry to develop healthier and tastier foods. The following research questions are central to the theme:

  • How can we understand fundamental physical and perceptual concepts determining texture?
  • How do changes in food structure couple with changes in oral behaviour and sensory perception?

Understanding dynamics of texture perception and liking

Food texture is perceived during the conversion of the initial food structure into a bolus through a complex series of oral manipulations including ingestion, oral processing and swallowing. To obtain insights into the perception of complex textural attributes, the research theme employs traditional, static descriptive and recently developed, time resolved sensory methodologies. Temporal dominance of sensations is used to determine dynamic texture sensations and link them to food breakdown and bolus properties. Texture attributes evaluated during early stages of the mastication are by far better understood and have been successfully related to food structural and mechanical properties. In contrast, texture attributes perceived during later stages of the mastication cycle and after swallowing are difficult to explain and less understood, although they contribute largely to food quality and acceptance. Due to the dynamic nature of oral processing, food structures and surfaces are continually changing, making assessments of texture perceived at later stages of the mastication cycle more challenging.

Current key projects