Stronger flavour preferred to light cheese varieties

15.11.2013

<p>It is possible that consumers would find light cheese varieties more palatable if their aroma and flavour were stronger. The characteristics that influence the palatability of cheese are different for light and full fat cheese varieties. A study of factors influencing the palatability of light cheeses has been completed at the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira.</p>

Saturated, so-called hard fats have long been linked to cardiovascular diseases, which has led nutritional recommendations to favour low-fat dairy products. Consuming milk products of this type would also reduce the total energy content in one's daily diet.

“Lower fat content influences the characteristics of cheese, such as aroma and flavour. Salt should nevertheless not be used to intensify aromas and flavours, due to its undesirable health impacts”, comments Tiina Ritvanen, a researcher at Evira's Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit.

The studied cheese varieties included Emmental and Edam cheeses, alongside Havarti-type cheeses. Their chemical composition, sensory profile and palatability were investigated. By combining the characteristics of cheese with its palatability, specific characteristics with an effect on taste were analysed.

Fatty acids in food have different health impacts
In her doctoral thesis, Ms Ritvanen also analysed the fatty acid composition of various dairy products. Although the nutritional debate has focussed on saturated fatty acids, so-called hard fat in food, trans fatty acids, TFA, are another group of fats that are harmful to the health. Functionally, these resemble saturated fats but have been proven to be more harmful to cardiac health than saturated fats. Hardened vegetable fats, used in dairy cream substitutes for example, baking margarines and vegetable fat ice cream, may contain trans fatty acids.

On the other hand, trans fatty acids are a group of slightly different compounds with varying health impacts. In fact, there is a need for fatty acid analytics to identify fatty acids more precisely than before. Analysis of fatty acids conducted using GC-MSD technology provided detailed information on the fatty acids used in dairy products on the market:

“Different types of cheese and different full fat cheese varieties have a similar fatty acid content. When milk fat is replaced with different vegetable fats, the fatty acid profile changes. In other words, different types of cheese include fat with equal health impacts, but in vegetable fat cheeses, the share of polyunsaturated fatty acids is higher and that of saturated fat lower than in ordinary cheese varieties”, says Ms Ritvanen.

Vegetable fat not always healthier
The milk-based products and spreads studied did not include any significant amounts of trans fats. In health terms, varying quantities of essential and polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids are more worthy of note. On the other hand, the saturated fat content of certain products was high, even though vegetable fat products are assumed to be low in these.

Since the corresponding information has not been available before, the results are significant not only for nutritional scientists and therapists but also for the food industry, consumers and legislators. The study indicates that the food industry has been able to achieve major reductions in the quantity of trans fatty acids in the analysed products, even in the absence of legislative sanctions.

Researcher Tiina Ritvanen defends her doctoral thesis today the 15th November 2013.
She is available from the 18th November 2013 onwards,
tel. +358 (0)40 489 3415.

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