Food: Engineered flavours Vs. Real foods


As research reveals that children’s appetites are being damaged by ‘engineered’ foods, we look at how parents can become more label savvy

Every child’s relationship with food is different, and as parents we become obsessed with what our offspring are gobbling up. But living in a time-pressured society means that although we may have our little one’s best interests at heart, we may be being misled by the vibrant packaging and empty promises in the supermarket aisles.

Misleading claims on packaging about food being ‘real’ and ‘natural’ means parents are unable to make informed decisions. Time-poor mums want meals to be both convenient and natural – yet the more convenient the food, the less natural it is likely to be.

Now, baby and toddler brand Organix is on a mission to uncover the effects it’s really having on our children. Along with taste psychologist Greg Tucker and Professor Andy Taylor from the University of Nottingham Food Science Department, Organix commissioned Engineering Taste: Is This The Future Of Our Children’s Food?

The study has shown that many children have become so used to ‘engineered’ food that it is impacting their ability to recognise and experience ‘real’ foods. So much so, we’re living in a world where some children believe chickens do not have bones, that apples don’t have cores, and that the only variety of tomato is a cherry one. On top of children’s ability to judge real food, putting in the effort required to eat it is being eroded, too. In a shift in children’s palates, they’re learning to look for fast taste gratification and ‘easy eats’.

“A real apple is very different to a cereal bar with a fruit filling,” explains Greg Tucker. “The apple filling is sweet, melts easily in the mouth, yet the ingredients list shows that some of these bars contain up to 36 ingredients, including flavourings. Consequently, children are disappointed by the genuine article, so they fail to acquire a taste for real apples.”

The research also uncovered a new zone of food – the zone of artifice. It comprises foods labelled as being ‘natural’, with no artificial flavours, yet which actually have no natural role in the food, and are there to enhance the eating experience, be it the flavour, texture or colour. As a result, the boundaries between real and artificial are becoming blurred.

The report suggests mums are keen to make good food choices, so they seek out ‘real’ and ‘natural’ claims on the packaging during their supermarket shop. As they learnt more about the product and its ingredients (often a very long list), many were surprised to discover it was not as natural as manufacturers claimed.

“We’re seeing a new take on artificial,” says Greg. “The addition of a natural ingredient to food, but one not expected or understood, and designed to materially enhance the delivery is an artifice – carrot juice in a strawberry yoghurt is clearly not right. This is a deliberate mislead by the food industry.

“These engineered foods behave differently when it comes to flavour release,” he adds.  “Rather than a slow release that moves at the pace of the chew, we get a more instant hit. But this flavour quickly dies, leaving children feeling emptier sooner, so they eat more.”

It’s also important to note that taking the time to chew properly and appreciate the flavour of our food comes with a host of health benefits, including better digestion. “Left alone, children tend to enjoy something at their own time and pace – finding the bits and elements that work for them,” adds Greg.

But what do you think? Are you concerned about the quality of ingredients and the zone of artifice in your child’s food? Organix wants to hear what you have to say – get involved: Facebook/organixfood, Twitter: @organixbrands or use #OrganixTaste.

Know Your labels: Organix’s Top Tips

• Don’t be lured by front-of-pack flashes such as ‘natural’, which can actually mean very little. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

• If you have the time, try to take a closer look at the ingredients and the nutritional information.

• Go for fewer ingredients. The more ingredients, the more additives there are likely to be.

• Look for ingredients that you recognise, that would appear in a recipe, or that you might find at home.

• Avoid ingredients that are artificial, such as sweeteners, colourings, starches or thickeners, preservatives, flavour enhancers and flavourings.