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Food innovation to be ‘revolutionised by neuroscience’

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Food and drink innovation is set to be revolutionised by neuroscience: Professor Barry Smith
Food and drink innovation is set to be revolutionised by neuroscience: Professor Barry Smith

Related tags: New product development, Olfaction

Neuroscience is set to revolutionise the way food and drink products are designed and consumed, a leading senses expert has claimed.

However, manufacturers might be better to focus their new product development on the 50% of the population who have ordinary taste and the 25% who are  “non-tasters”​ and don't have the same fast reaction to properties such as bitterness and salt, he argued, since the remaining 25% known as “super tasters”​ tend to be quite fussy eaters.

“What you call the non-tasters, I think it is better to call them ‘adventurous tasters’; they need a lot of oral stimulation, they will like a lot of salt, they will like a lot of spice, they will like a lot of things going on. And that is a population we should be entertaining,”​ said Professor Barry Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy as well as the founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London.

Between 22 and 33 different senses

The body’s various senses, such as vision, olfaction, sound and touch, can be used to “capture the attention”​ and have an impact on how we perceive and appreciate different foods and flavours, said Smith. People have between 22 and 33 different senses, rather than the five most people recognise, Smith told delegates at New Frontiers in Food and Drink conference organised by Food Manufacture​ and sponsored by Lloyds Bank and Roythornes Solicitors last month. Many of these senses are used during eating and drinking, he added.

“The brain doesn’t just take the sum of information, what it does is it integrates information, very often to give you a message about what’s going on out there it says: keep tracking and pay attention to this, it's important,”​ said Smith.

‘Super-additive effect’

He used the example of crushing a plastic bottle to describe the “super-additive effect”​ you perceive in the brain. “It will do the same things with flavours and with other sensory inputs that will affect how you perceive flavours.”

There was now good evidence that in addition to the taste perceptors on the tongue most people know about, we also have metallic receptors, but “the jury is out on fat and fatty acids”​. “It’s still to do with mouthfeel rather than anything else,”​ he said.

Smith also reported that the brain often confuses things: “People think that double cream is sweet because of its texture rather than anything else even though it’s not. It's because of something we call affective touch.”​ Similarly, many people associate the smell of vanilla with sweetness, when it is not.

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