Our favourite everyday processed foods could taste just as good but be healthier in future, thanks to our virtual mouth technology that is revealing the science of chewing.

The challenge

Salt, sugar and saturated fat

Around 80 per cent of our daily diet is foods that are processed to some degree. Eating too many foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat is leading to a rise in diet-related diseases in many countries, including Australia.

Dr Simon Harrison and virtual mouth

CSIRO biomechanical engineer and computer modeller, Dr Simon Harrison, said the world’s first 3D dynamic virtual mouth can provide detailed insight for developing healthier foods that are lower in salt, sugar and saturated fat but with the same or similar taste.

"In polite company, we can't see inside someone's mouth while they're eating and, until now, it has not been possible to view how the chewing process alters food," Dr Harrison said.

Our response

The science of chewing

Using a cutting-edge technique called smooth particle hydrodynamics, we've developed a virtual mouth built on real data about the physics of chewing. It predicts how a particular food breaks down and how flavour is released in the mouth. It also shows the distribution and interaction of components such as salt, sugar and fat.

Through this technology, we can view and analyse how food at the microscopic level works in the mouth, and how it influences our taste perception.

[Image shows a rotating skeleton jaw, teeth and lips.]

[Image changes to show a caramel-filled chocolate egg between the teeth.]

[Image changes to show the jaw closing, the teeth chewing on the chocolate egg and the chocolate egg breaking up.]

[Image changes to show a square caramel-filled chocolate being chewed by the teeth.]

[Image changes to show a soft lolly being chewed by the teeth.]

[Image changes to show side-by-side close ups of the teeth chewing on a jelly bean.]

[Image changes to show side-by-side close ups of the teeth chewing on a jelly baby.]

[Image changes to show side-by-side close ups of the teeth chewing on a life saver.]

Virtual mouth :  Our virtual mouth model chewing chocolates

The results

Developing healthier processed foods

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well as how to incorporate more fibre and nutrients, and even how to create new food sensations.

This new data and understanding is helping to develop foods lower in salt, sugar and fat without changing the taste.

The benefits for the food industry could be significant.

The technology can give food and ingredient manufacturers the ability not only to model the breakdown of a complex food product, but also the individual components. It can also model the costs of making changes to a product, and then calculate the cost benefit. This will save time and money, compared to using the traditional 'cook and look' approach that is often needed to make changes to food products.

Our research should also help create new taste sensations that could find their way into new foods on our supermarket shelves.

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