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Strong smells trigger small bites

People exposed to strong odours seem to take smaller bites of food, according to one of the first research papers in a newly launched journal aimed at scientists whose work relates to the cutting edge of cuisine.

Rene de Wijk, of the TI Food and Nutrition research centre in Wageningen, the Netherlands, piped vanilla custard into the mouths of 10 subjects while also pumping various different aromas into their nasal passages. Subjects exposed to higher aroma intensities took markedly smaller bites, the size of which they controlled with a button.

“This result suggests a rapid feedback mechanism in which the aroma is perceived during the filling of the mouth, and where the outcome of this evaluation is used to terminate the bite,” write the researchers. “This feedback loop takes no more than a few seconds.”

The result adds to evidence that bite size is one of the factors that people use, often unconsciously, to regulate the sensations they get from their food. Researchers could eventually build on such work to design foods that trigger people to take smaller bites, increasing satiation and encouraging moderation in a world increasingly prone to obesity.

The results are published today in the debut issue of Flavour, a new open-access journal from the UK-based BioMed Central.

Per Møller, who works on food and the senses at the University of Copenhagen, is one of the editors-in-chief of the journal. He hopes that it will serve to bring together researchers from multiple branches of science who work on questions that come into the public sphere as part of the increasingly popular ‘molecular gastronomy’ movement (see our sister journal Nature Chemistry for debate about the use of that particular term).

“We want to span an enormous range, from anthropology and sociology to economics to neuroscience and psychology, all the way to physics and chemistry,” says Møller. “All these different sciences have things to say about what flavour does and why we perceive flavours.”

Correction 22/3/12: This story originally stated that Flavour was published by PubMed Central. It is in fact published by BioMed Central. The text has been changed to reflect this.

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