Making meals more appealing

Could the addition of flavour enhancers help those of us with an impaired sense of smell get more enjoyment from our food? 

This question was explored recently by a group of researchers at the Medical University of Vienna. 

We know that smell training can improve our sense of smell, but recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Improvements are gradual, taking months or even years. Meantime, our food tastes flat and dull, and our enjoyment is low. Flavour enhancement may provide a short-term solution.

The flavour enhancers used in this study were drops designed to be added to everyday meals. These drops contained only water, flavourings (vanilla, coconut or strawberry) and sweetener (sucralose), so were suitable for diabetics or those on a calorie-controlled diet.

Thirty people, all with various degrees of smell impairment, were recruited to test the drops. After an initial screening to confirm that they could detect the flavour enhancement effect, participants were instructed to add 5-10 drops to at least one of their daily meals. This was carried out for a two-week period, with a second two-week study (either before or after) using drops with no flavour enhancement properties. Data was collected on how the individuals found the flavour enhancers, how closely they stuck to using the drops daily, and looked at how it affected their Quality of Life.

There was high compliance in the test, with drops being added regularly to meals. This confirmed that individuals with smell impairments are keen to find new ways of making their food more palatable. No one reported any adverse effects (such as nausea, vomiting or low appetite) when they used the drops, though a few did find the taste of the artificial sweetener unpleasant.

Results showed that more drops were added to breakfast meals, rather than dinner. The researchers concluded that this was probably due to the type of foods being consumed at different times of day. You can imagine that these sweet flavour drops would be more compatible with cornflakes at breakfast than with sausage and mash at dinner! In future studies, the solution would be to offer a selection of different types of flavour enhancers, suitable for use in a wider range of foods.

Although no definite improvements in quality of life were recorded, a longer study with a greater number of subjects may provide more conclusive results.

Easy to use

The major benefit is that no drugs were used in these interventions. These flavour enhancers are widely found in foods on our supermarket shelves. In fact, the food industry may hold the key to developments in this area. Food scientists and manufacturers have already carried out extensive research and have information on the types and levels of compounds that could be used to enhance different food flavours.

It’s encouraging to see a new avenue being explored which will help individuals cope with the daily challenges of smell impairment. We will watch with interest to see how this research develops.

This work was published in the Open Access journal Chemosensory PerceptionFlavor Enhancement in Daily Life of Patients with Olfactory Dysfunction | SpringerLink