Although consumers are seeking low fat products more and more, they do not want to sacrifice taste and texture. This has therefore become a popular area of research. Textual and structural change in low fat foods during chewing will be the focus of its 2008 research project, in order to provide new insight into the relationship between ingredients, microstructure and consumer perception. Its final aim is to enable participating manufacturers to develop innovative healthy products that maintain the qualities of their full fat counterparts. "Fat replacers can fill a hole with the food's texture but, because of the way fat breaks down and changes texture in the mouth, low fat products often lose that indulgent quality," said Alice Pegg, head of food innovation. The UK-based company, which provides technical analysis, research, market data and regulatory guidance, is looking for industry support for this year's project, which it anticipates will require an investment of £10-15,000. At this stage, the organisation is not targeting any particular food sector as fat reduction is in strong demand across the board. However, some concepts and new ingredients would be able to cross over sectors. Research into solutions Pegg said: "While research into texture and sensory qualities of low fat products has been reported on, nothing has been published on understanding how food is broken down in the mouth and how this affects the sensory perception." LFI plans to review research into property changes during eating, analyse consumer attitudes and compare structure, rheology and sensory properties of available products before and during chewing. Changes to distribution of fat, sugar and salt on breakdown of the products during chewing will be followed to relate to sensory qualities. One concept the research team is working on is the use of emulsifiers. For example, they are developing ways to insert water into oil before adding it to water. This way, the oil has a reduced fat content, but the consumer cannot detect a change in the texture. This concept has been applied to low fat mayonnaises, for example, to maintain desired sensory qualities, and to salt crystals. Healthy food demand The demand for healthy foods has been growing across Europe as the health and wellbeing trend continues to grow amid increasing obesity levels. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. The prevalence of obesity in the UK has more than doubled in the last 25 years. In a survey looking at weight management conducted by Synovate, a third of people across 13 countries worldwide claimed they chose low fat foods to keep trim. For the UK, 43 per cent of respondents said they opted for low fat foods to maintain a healthy weight. With new labelling guidelines and regulations being introduced in the UK and Europe, fat, salt and sugar content is set become ever more scrutinised. LFI researchers will be focusing on low fat food solutions, but will continue adding to their projects on low salt and low sugar foods, completed in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Previous research has provided useful insights into relationships between structure, texture and consumer perception, which the research team hopes to develop on.