In recent research, scientists have discovered that the high-fat content of ice cream and yogurt is not only enjoyed for its taste but also due to its addictive mouthfeel. Researchers at Oxford University used a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and brain science to uncover the reasons behind this preference.
In their study, the researchers prepared vanilla-flavored milkshakes with varying fat and sugar content. They also obtained pig tongues from a local butcher to measure the sliding friction of their milkshakes under different conditions. The results showed that the friction decreased as the fat content of the shake increased.
Next, more than twenty test subjects were asked to taste the milkshakes and rate their willingness to pay for more. The researchers then imaged the participants’ brains using fMRI while they tasted the milkshakes. The findings revealed that differences in composition and pleasantness were reflected in reactions of the orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible for sensations and food attractiveness.
The researchers also found that mouthfeel played a significant role in people’s food choices. In another part of the experiment, test subjects were asked to choose their favorite curry from three options with different fat content without knowing they were being observed by researchers. Those whose orbitofrontal cortex had reacted strongly to the greasy mouthfeel in the shake experiment tended to choose fattier curries for lunch.
Grabenhorst believes that these findings may help develop low-calorie foods that still have a pleasing mouthfeel. The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience and provides valuable insights into how our brains process and enjoy high-fat foods like ice cream and yogurt.