There is a scientific reason you're addicted to salted caramel - pic Instagram

Salted caramel was created in an obscure confectioner's shop in Northern France more than three decades ago, but now it seems to be taking over the Western world.

It's been around since 1980, thanks to the inventive efforts of a French chocolatier called Henri Le Roux. But the food industry has only recently woken up to its potential.

Success breeds excess, so our supermarket shelves now heave under the weight of salted caramel-flavoured products, from the obvious — such as chocolate, fudge, ice cream and milkshake — through to oddities such as coffee, vodka, tea, crisps, peanut spread, icing sugar and Greek yoghurt.

Researchers have discovered that though your response to the concept of salted caramel crisps may be horror, the first taste will pique your interest, the second has you ‘mmm-ing', and after that your appetite for the stuff is unceasing.

Marketing analysts Dr Cammy Crolic and Professor Chris Janiszewski from the University of Florida, tested the salted caramel flavour on more than 150 volunteers.

They found it causes a rare phenomenon called ‘hedonic escalation'.

Normally, they say, we get bored eating even the most enticing goodies. 

Unless somebody has an eating disorder, even the most avid scoffers of treat foods end up having their appetite tell them ‘that's enough for now'.

This natural response is called ‘hedonic adaptation': you really can have too much of a good thing and have to stop gorging on it.

By contrast, the hedonic escalation we get from salted caramel makes our instinctive brains keep craving more with every additional mouthful, say the researchers.

Salted caramel cupcakes - pic Instagram

It's easiest to understand the magical power of complex flavour changes by tucking into a big Sunday lunch. 

We get to the point when we feel we physically couldn't wedge even one more sliver of beef or chicken into our bodies. But when it's time for apple crumble, because of the change in flavours we instantly develop an extra ‘pudding stomach' to fit it all in.

The sweet and savoury taste combinations in salted caramel make it effectively an ever-cycling first and second course in one.

The seductive power is stronger still because the flavours in salted caramel are well known to our brains as the most craveable substances on Earth, say the researchers. On their own, sugar and salt spark drug-like pleasure effects in our brains.

Sugar can signal release of the feelgood brain chemical serotonin. And research at the University of Melbourne shows salt stimulates the same areas of our brains that prompt cravings as cocaine.

Salt enhances the flavour of foods by reducing bitterness and enhancing the sweet taste of sugar. 

Put sugar and salt together, and their ability to induce cravings can increase exponentially.