Are you a sucker or a chewer?

By Pamela Tyers , James Davidson

15 April 2014

3 minute read

Our 3D dynamic virtual mouth isn’t creepy at all…

How do you eat your Easter chocolate? Do you suck it or chew it? Does your tongue smear the inside of your mouth as the chocolate melts, or does it get chomped by your back teeth then sent down your throat?

It’s true, some of us suck and some of us chew. Whichever process we use to break down food in our mouth, it affects the taste sensation.

Flavour is released through the movement and time taken for taste components to hit our taste buds. Those taste components include salt, sugar and fat. If we know how to place those tasty bits into foods so that they achieve maximum delicious flavour before we digest the food, we then know how to use less of the unhealthy ingredients because our inefficient chewing means that we don’t taste much of them anyway.

For example, bread would taste unappetising if too much salt was removed out of it, but science can help us understand how to remove some of the less healthy components out of foods while retaining their familiar, delicious taste.

The life and times of a creme egg. How do you eat yours?

The life and times of a creme egg. How do you eat yours? Image: Flickr/Mark Seton

Enter our new 3D dynamic virtual mouth – the world’s first – which is helping our researchers understand how foods break down in the mouth, as well as how the food components are transported around the mouth, and how we perceive flavours. Using a nifty technique called smooth particle hydrodynamics, we can model the chewing process on specific foods and gather valuable data about how components such as salt, sugar and fat are distributed and interact with our mouths at the microscopic level.

We’re using it to make food products with less salt, sugar and fat and incorporate more wholegrains, fibre and nutrients without affecting the taste.

It’s part of research that will help us understand how we can modify and develop particular food products with more efficient release of the flavour, aroma and taste of our everyday foods.

And it’s good news for all of us. Eighty percent of our daily diet is processed foods – think breakfast cereals, sliced meats, pasta, sauces, bread and more. So, creating healthier processed foods will help tackle widespread issues such as obesity and chronic lifestyle diseases.

In fact, our scientific and nutritional advice to government and industry has so far helped remove 2,200 tons of salt from the Australian food supply, and reduced our population’s salt consumption by 4 per cent.

Oh…and we’ve also used the virtual mouth to model just how we break down our Easter chocolate.

As the teeth crush the egg, the chocolate fractures and releases the caramel. The chocolate coating collapses further and the tongue moves to reposition the food between the teeth for the next chewing cycle. The caramel then pours out of the chocolate into the mouth cavity.

With this virtual mouth, variations to thickness of chocolate, chocolate texture, caramel viscosity, and sugar, salt and fat concentrations and locations can all be modified simply and quickly to test the effects on how the flavours are released.

Now that’s something to chew on. Happy Easter!