Achieving great taste in reduced-calorie beverages

Andy del Rosal
Beverage Applications Scientist

More than 60% of adults around the world are trying to improve the healthfulness of their diets, according to market studies. As a result, the market for reduced-calorie food and beverage products is booming: in 2009, more than 25% of adults increased the amount of reduced-calorie food and beverages they purchased. In the United States and Europe, annual sales of diet products surpass $116.5 billion.

Some calorie-conscious consumers want to lose weight, while others want to improve their overall wellbeing. Regardless, they all want their reduced-calorie foods and beverages to taste just as good as the full-calorie products they’re replacing. Thanks to breakthrough research and development by Cargill scientists, customers can now help consumers attain their reduced-calorie desires.

Through a research project started about 8 years ago focusing on lubrication in low-viscosity beverages, Cargill has established a scientific understanding of the relationship between lubrication and mouthfeel in beverages. Combining Cargill’s research, ingredient and applications expertise, Cargill scientists learned that three key interrelated fact

ors affect the taste of beverages: sweetness, flavor and mouthfeel.

Capitalizing on this insight, we sought to understand how specific ingredients interact to drive consumer appeal. We conducted sensory testing at North Carolina State University’s Sensory Science Center to explore this interrelated nature and correlate it with sensory science and consumer preferences. A total of 200 diet- and regular-beverage consumers provided overall liking and attribute liking scores for 18 commercial and numerous prototype lemon-lime soft drinks.

Quality descriptive analysis was performed on the same beverages using a trained 10-person sensory panel with an expanded lexicon of 28 sensory attributes and a focus on mouthfeel, which revealed the link to consumer appeal drivers.

Specific findings:

1. There is a sensory gap between diet and full-calorie commercial lemon-lime soft drinks. Mouthfeel was consistently different between diet and full-calorie products. Full-calorie lemon-lime drinks always scored higher in “tongue heaviness” mouthfeel attributes. With diet drinks, negative sensory attributes scores were higher, and six of the eight major flavor attributes were different between full and diet siblings.
2. Current ingredients or ingredient systems reduce the sensory gap. All Cargill identified mouthfeel ingredients had a positive effect on flavor, aftertaste and mouthfeel attributes.
3. Mouthfeel sensory attributes correlate with lubricity (friction). Mouthfeel attributes didn't correlate with viscosity (thickness) and density in low viscosity beverages, as the industry had thought.
4. There is a connection between key mouthfeel sensations and consumer liking. The sensory and consumer liking panels determined that mouthfeel is a driver of appeal in lemon-lime beverages for certain segments of consumers and that diet beverages lack mouthfeel.
Andy del Rosal is leader of Cargill’s beverage applications scientists in North America and has more than 17 years in food and beverage research and development. He has played a key role in the creation of TasteWise™ reduced-calorie solutions, Cargill’s new approach, technology and ingredients that enable beverage makers to create great-tasting reduced-calorie beverages.