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Making the healthy option tastier

The PLEASURE project is working to improve the taste of low-fat and low-salt versions of pre-packaged foods such as pizza. © Shutterstock
The PLEASURE project is working to improve the taste of low-fat and low-salt versions of pre-packaged foods such as pizza. © Shutterstock

The downside of low-salt and low-fat foods is that they often don't taste as good as the unhealthy ones - until now.

If scientists at an EU-funded project are successful then they'll be able to make a ready-made pizza that has 30 % less salt and reduced fat, but tastes exactly like a standard one. They've already done it for puff pastry - used to make croissants - and a group of consumers said they didn't notice any difference. 

'Croissant is one of the unhealthiest products in terms of salt and fat content you can eat,' said Mathias Kück, the 47-year-old founder of Biozoon Food Innovations in Germany and co-ordinator of the PLEASURE project. ‘Puff pastry usually has 64 layers, 32 of fat and 32 of dough, so the fact that we were able to reduce the amount of fat is a great result.’

Over half of Europeans are obese or overweight, according to data from the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat, and part of the problem is the popularity of pre-packaged pizzas, pastas, and pies.

‘What we want to achieve is a certain controlled distribution of salt in the dough, which means that you can reduce salt without changing the sensorial perception.’

Mathias Kück, founder, Biozoon Food Innovations, Germany

In the EU, the proportion of overweight and obese people in the adult population varied between 37 % and 57 % for women and between 51 % and 69 % for men, according to data from 2008 to 2009, the most recent available.

Many pre-packaged foods don't just contain too much fat, they're also heavily salted to improve the taste and make them keep for longer. The high salt content means that people who eat too much convenience food are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the World Health Organization. 

The problem is that people often won’t pick the healthier alternative from the supermarket shelf, as they know it won’t taste as nice. ‘What needs to be changed is the consumer behaviour,' said Kück, a food processing engineer by training.

More with less

Rather than using additives or replacers for reducing the salt, sugar and fat content, scientists at PLEASURE have found a way to do more with less. Normally salt and fat are spread unevenly in food, clumping up in some parts of the mixture and thinly spread in others.

To achieve a better distribution of salt, fat and sugar when mixing the dough, researchers at PLEASURE are using an industrial mixer specially adapted by their partner, VMI, a French mixer maker. 'What we want to achieve is a certain controlled distribution of salt in the dough, which means that you can reduce salt without changing the sensorial perception,’ Kück said.

Mathias Kück, founder, Biozoon Food Innovations, Germany.Mathias Kück, founder, Biozoon Food Innovations, Germany.

He’s hoping to reduce fat, and cut salt by 30 %. That’s important because it’s the minimum reduction for a food to be labelled as ‘reduced salt’ under EU regulations.

The PLEASURE consortium is applying its techniques to different food categories such as bakery, meat, cheese, and fruit and vegetable preparations, so they can be bought together to make a pizza. Then they plan to bring all of the ingredients together to make a pizza, and two types of pastries, and test them on an industrially relevant scale to see if consumers accept them.

‘We are in a position to develop all the different components separately and test them for their properties,' said Kück. ‘If the consumers accept the individual foods, for example salami, cheese etcetera, and then we put them all together on a pizza, then the likelihood that the pizza gets accepted by consumers is very high.’

Improving nutrition across the EU

An EU action group that includes industry and consumer associations has made over 300 commitments looking at diet, physical activity and health.

The EU has put in place a strategy for Europe, for the period 2007-2013, to help reduce ill health due to poor nutrition and obesity.

EU rules say that if a food company wants to claim its product is low in fat, sugar or salt, then it must put the exact amounts present per 100 g or per 100 ml on the packaging.

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