In a landmark study at Pennsylvania State University, a remarkable discovery was made: adding vanilla to sweetened dairy drinks can make them appear sweeter. This opens up an exciting opportunity to reduce the sugar content without sacrificing the sweetness of the drink. With this finding, the researchers are now planning to develop a reduced-sugar variant of chocolate milk for the National School Lunch Program.
"We use the psychological connection between a scent and a taste to lower the sugar content," explains Helene Hopfer, assistant professor of food science. "The goal of reducing the levels of added sugar, fat and salt in food is one of the great challenges of food science."
In a blind tasting that provided new perspectives on flavor enhancement, participants who unknowingly had vanilla in their milk consistently reported that the samples with vanilla tasted significantly sweeter than sugar content alone could explain.
The study results suggest that the use of vanilla could potentially reduce the sugar content in flavored milk drinks by an impressive 20 to 50 percent without consumers perceiving the drink as being less sweet. This is a significant finding, especially given the widespread concerns about sugar consumption and its impact on health.
Manufacturers strive to redesign their products to meet consumer needs. The results of the study offer them a viable way to lower the added sugars in their products while maintaining the desired sweetness.
Later this summer, Hopfer's lab will work on a two-year project funded by the National Dairy Council. The goal of this project is to develop a reduced-sugar chocolate milk for the National School Lunch Program. In doing so, they draw on their most recent research, in which they use the synergistic effects of vanilla and sugar for sugar reduction. The challenge is to balance the cocoa's natural bitterness.
"The amount of sugar in chocolate milk is quite high because cocoa is very bitter. So you need sugar to reduce the bitterness of the cocoa and also to make the drink sweet," explains Hopfer. Her goal is to find the ideal balance between cocoa powder, sugar content and vanilla flavor through experimental work.
The researchers are confident that their study results can be transferred to other foods and beverages. This could be an effective way to lower the sugar content without sacrificing flavor. In the long term, this could help bring healthier foods and beverages to market, thereby counteracting health problems such as obesity, diabetes and other diseases associated with high sugar consumption.
Reducing sugar levels in foods and beverages is an essential step in increasing consumer health awareness and encouraging them to make more conscious dietary choices. By using vanilla and other flavors that enhance sweetness, manufacturers can continue to offer delicious products while helping to improve public health.
Taken together, the Pennsylvania State University study shows that vanilla is a potential tool for reducing sugar levels in sweetened dairy beverages without sacrificing sweet taste. This finding could lead to healthier, lower-sugar products hitting the market in the future that cater to consumer taste preferences