Complex Flavor Chemistry Makes Chocolate Flavor Stronger Despite Lower Fat Content
NEW ORLEANS, La., Aug. 25 - A University of Missouri taste test found "no significant difference" in the flavor of low-fat versus regular chocolate ice cream - a bonus that may be unique to chocolate ice creams due to the complex mix of chemicals that make up that distinctive flavor, scientists say.
The study, reported here today at the national meeting of the world's largest scientific society, the American Chemical Society, was conducted with the help of more than 100 fortunate students, teachers and staff at the university. Columbia, Mo.-based chemist Ingolf Gruen, Ph.D., of the university's Department of Food Science, targeted chocolate because the popular flavor had not previously been studied.
After vanilla, chocolate is the second favorite ice cream flavor in the United States, according to Gruen, the study's principal investigator. "There has been research done with vanilla ice cream, but there was absolutely no published research done on chocolate ice cream," Gruen says. "Since the reduction of fat in vanilla ice creams resulted in a less smooth and harsher taste, and people disliked it more, we wondered if that was true for chocolate ice cream."
A single chemical compound carries the flavor of vanilla. By contrast, the flavor of chocolate is a mixture of many chemicals, according to Gruen. It's this complexity that helps make chocolate less susceptible to flavor degradation. "In fact, chocolate is often used to cover up off flavors," notes Gruen. "It's a masking flavor."
Gruen bases his conclusion on the study he conducted with panels of trained and untrained volunteer tasters from the campus. He says, "People basically like the 0.5 percent non-fat ice cream just as much as they like the full-fat (9 percent milk fat) chocolate ice cream."
The trained panelists found that the intensity of the flavor varied with the fat content - akin to the difference between milk chocolate and dark or semi-bitter chocolate. But, the collective thumbs-up by the much larger group of untrained survey participants showed they didn't think that difference mattered much.
The same is not necessarily true for strawberry ice cream, however, according to a study done at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Researchers there found the taste of fat-free strawberry ice cream differed significantly in taste from the regular version, according to Sanna-Maija Miettinen, who presented her findings earlier this week at the New Orleans meeting.
For health-conscious chocolate ice cream lovers, the Missouri study is good news. "When it comes to chocolate ice cream, the decision to buy a good-tasting ice cream is independent of the fat content," Gruen says. "Most likely, you will like the ice cream and not be able to tell the difference."
All the tested chocolate ice creams were made on the Columbia campus as part of the University of Missouri's food science program.
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