Cross-modal interactions as a strategy for sugar reduction in products targeted at children: Case study with vanilla milk desserts

The high availability of products with high sugar content, particularly among those targeted as children, has been identified as one of the factors that contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. For this reason, product reformulation has been recommended as one of the strategies that can be implemented to achieve short-term reductions in children’s sugar intake. In this context, the objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of using cross-modal (taste-odor-texture) interactions as a strategy for reducing the sugar content of products targeted at children, using milk desserts as case study. A series of 5 vanilla milk desserts were formulated: a control sample with 12% added sugar and 4 sugar-reduced samples (7% added sugar) prepared following a 2 × 2 experimental design by varying vanilla (0.4% and 0.6% w/w) and starch (4.3% and 4.7% w/w) concentrations. A total of 112 children (8–12 years old) tasted the desserts and performed a dynamic sensory characterization task using either temporal check-all-that-apply or temporal dominance of sensations. In addition, they assessed the overall liking of all samples. Results showed that sugar-reduced samples did not significantly differ from the control sample in terms of their average overall liking scores. However, individual differences in children’s hedonic reaction were found; three clusters of children with distinctive liking patterns were identified. The increase in vanilla and starch concentration led to an increase in overall liking for over 80% of the children. Sensory dynamic profiles revealed significant but subtle differences among samples. Results from the present work suggest that cross-modal interactions could contribute to minimizing the sensory changes caused by sugar reduction, which could enable to achieve larger reductions if implemented in the context of gradual sugar reduction programs.