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Smellier food could help cut salt levels

Tinkering with the smell of food could be the key to making ready meals and fast food healthier after scientists have discovered that certain odours can make food seem saltier.

Researchers found that the brain can be tricked into thinking food is saltier than it really is by using certain smells that enhance the perception of salt in the food.

They believe that it is possible to reduce the salt content of food by more than 25pc purely by increasing the intensity of certain odours.

The scientists have identified 14 different odours that can enhance the saltiness of food without the addition of salt.

Many ready meals and fast food products have high levels of salt added to them to help enhance the flavour and make them more attractive to consumers.

Excessive salt consumption, however, is a major risk factor in heart disease, high blood pressure and stoke.

The new research, which was carried out by scientists at the University of Burgundy, showed that by adding artificial aromas associated with a salty taste, such as that of sardines, cheese or bacon, they could trick consumers into thinking there was more salt in a food than there really was.

Dr Thierry Thomas-Danguin, a research fellow at the Centre for Science of Taste and Food at the University of Burgundy, said: "In our study we observed an enhancement of salty taste induced by sardine odour but not with carrot odour. Sardine odour is congruent with salty taste whereas carrot odour is not.

"The odour-induced saltiness enhancement is a centrally mediated phenomenon based on associative memory and only the activation of an internal representation of a salt-associated odour is sufficient to induce the taste enhancement."

The scientists found that by adding the aroma of sardines or comte cheese into salt solutions of different strength or into a plain cheese, they were able to enhance the taste of salt experienced by volunteers.

As the aromas are artificially produced using chemicals, they do not carry any salt, fat or tastes of the food they are mimicing. The smell, however, tricks the brain into thinking the taste is saltier than it really is.

They have also found that other smells associated with peanuts, ham, anchovies, and bacon can similarly enhance the taste of salt in a food.

By adding these odours to foods, they believe it will be possible to cut down the actual amount of salt that is required in food products and are working with food giants Unilever to develop the research further.

The Government is attempting to get major food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt they add to food by getting them to sign up to a promise to cut down the amount they use.

Critics, however, have claimed that it does not go far enough as many manufacturers are unlikely to cut salt out of their products voluntarily as it is one of the main ingredients that consumers find so attractive.

Dr Thomas-Danguin said: "We think that odour-induced saltiness enhancement could be used in a very large range of foodstuff.

"Well selected odours can compensate up two a 25pc reduction of salt content. Other sensory dimensions of food, such as the food texture, would also modulate the smell-taste interaction."

© Telegraph.co.uk