March 14/Amherst, Mass./University of Massachusetts Amherst -- Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst say low-fat, creamy desserts and sauces could be made as tasty and visually appealing as their full-fat counterparts simply by adjusting the calcium and acidity levels.

The researchers said that the method enabled them to successfully reduce the fat content in a model white sauce from 10% to 2% without compromising on the taste and texture of the product.

"By controlling pH and calcium content, we are able to regulate the interactions among fat droplets," said Bicheng Wu, a graduate student involved in the research. "This makes them stick together and form flocs, or clumps. We believe the water trapped inside these flocs makes the sauce seem fattier than it really is and preserves the look, feel and flavor."

Wu says that when it comes to the overall sensory attributes of food, fat plays a leading role. "It carries flavors, so cutting the fat content lessens the intensity of the flavor. The appearance, meaning the opacity or lightness, of a food mixture largely depends on light scattering by fat droplets, so high fat content gives a milky appearance to a sauce or dressing."

Despite similarities in appearance and texture, lead researcher of the study D. Julian McClements, Ph.D.,  said that one problem that the researchers need to overcome is in relation to satiety. McClements explains that many people do not feel as full once the fat content is cut.

"Due to the high calorie count in fat and how the body digests it, fat also affects the feeling of satiety," he said.

McClements said that the research team will soon be conducting extensive tests, allowing them to adjust the composition and incorporate other seasoning ingredients into the foods.

"Since this fat reduction is easy for us now, and the fact that our new products contain healthy ingredients that can be used in a wide range of products, this means there's a great potential to reach the market in the near future."