Are you an ice cream biter, sucker or licker? That matters because how you eat your ice cream determines the taste, as PhD student Monica Aguayo-Mendoza and her colleagues at Unilever have discovered.
‘We knew that consumers eat their ice creams in different ways, but the effect this has on taste had not yet been investigated,’ says Aguayo-Mendoza, a PhD candidate in the Physics and Physical Chemistry of Foods group.
The researchers invited 103 test subjects, mostly Wageningen students, to eat ice cream in the lab. First they had to fill in a questionnaire on how they would describe their ice cream eating technique. Did they bite, lick, suck, let it melt on the tongue or use some combination of these methods? The candidates were also filmed eating ice cream. Both the survey and the video footage showed that three quarters of the subjects used a combination of the techniques. But Aguayo-Mendoza saw quite a few differences between the video footage and the survey answers. ‘The video recordings offer a more reliable way to study eating behaviour.’
Then 22 subjects were selected for a series of training sessions in which they learned to evaluate taste and texture, followed by a second round of ice cream eating. This time, they were given specific instructions to bite on the ice cream, let it melt on the tongue or simply eat it as usual. People who chewed on the ice cream mainly tasted fruit flavours, while those who let it melt tasted more sweetness.
‘It is interesting to see how this oral processing influences the taste experience,’ says Aguayo-Mendoza. ‘Ice cream manufacturers can use this knowledge to control people’s taste experience, for example by adjusting the texture of an ice cream so that you have to chew on it more.’