Working under the Brussels-backed DiOGenes project launched in January this year, scientists will explore the possibility that certain ingredients and flavours may enhance or diminish "full-up", satiety signals in the consumer.
It is possible, they say, that differences between consumers in taste perception could influence the development of satiation and food intake behaviour.
"A combined effort, we will investigate at a macronutrient and micronutrient level whether there are sensory triggers that slash the desire to eat too much of certain foods," says Dr. Alexandra Boelrijk, a principal scientist at NIZO food research, one of the participants in the project.
This fundamental research holds considerable potential for food makers: identifying signals for satiety would lead to new product designs that encompass certain flavours that provide the consumer with a "full up" trigger.
Does this mean that feelings of satiety provided by certain foods could be the new weapon against obesity? "The Holy Grail is to find triggers that could really be implemented in new food concepts - adding satiety signals to condiments such as mayonnaise, for example," Dr. Boelrijk tells FoodNavigator.com.
The fight against obesity is gaining momentum in Europe, propelled by rising figures that show levels are far from leveling off.
Fresh figures released last month show in excess of 200 million adults across the EU may be overweight or obese.
And the number of European kids overweight is rising by a hefty 400,000 a year, according to the data from the International Obesity Task Force (IOFT).
And the costs are high. The DiOGenes project estimates that obesity consumes about 5 per cent of total health care budgets in the EU.
Funded through a €14 million European Commission contribution, the five-year DiOGenes project involves 30 partners from 15 European countries, three multinational food firms (Danone, Nestle and Unilever) and is co-ordinated by Professor Wim Saris at Maastricht University.
The team at NIZO food research, involved in one of the five branches of the project, will focus on the role aroma plays in satiety mechanisms: using the MS Nose, the olfactometer and GC sniffing to test sensitivity of individuals.
Their technologists will kick off with sweet, savoury and cream largely because "obese people appear to eat more savoury/fat, sweet/fat and creamy foods".
Initially the researchers will work with the WCFS database of 150 Dutch people, a cross-section of the population, to investigate how sensitive the subjects are to the molecules held in the aromas of sweet, savoury and creamy foods.
"If we can't identify sufficient differences, we'll move onto a new set of food aromas," adds the NIZO scientist.
In addition, the NIZO food research crew will look at oral processes: how individuals pump aroma into their noses.
People respond differently to liquid, semi-liquid, soft solid and solid foods, from biscuits and aged cheese, to chocolate. The literal 'processing' or mastication of the foods will deliver different sensory perceptions, and could play a role in feelings of satiety.
"Different textures, for example, may bring more or less sensory stimulation, depending on the individual," says Dr. Boelrijk.
Nizo is collaborating with European partners such as Wageningen Centre for Food Science, the University of Budapest, and the University of Maastricht on this branch of the DiOGenes project.
In addition to the food technology branch, the EU programme will aim to identify key dietary, psychological, lifestyle and genetic factors, as well as bio-markers, "which will provide a scientific basis for predicting whether a subject will keep a healthy weight or not."
Clearly a growing concern to Brussels, last month the Commission announced a further initiative to tackle obesity.
Brandished as an 'EU platform on diet, physical activity and health', the move brings together industry, consumer groups, health experts and political leaders to discuss voluntary actions to combat obesity.
The European food industry has been plucked out to participate in the platform, that could bring new voluntary labelling initiatives, a tighter advertising code and increased investment in innovation for food manufacturers.