We all have those certain foods we just won’t eat strictly due to their texture. Whether it’s too slimy, or too creamy, it has tough skin, or it’s just too soft, food textures can make the difference between passing on a dish or love at first bite.
Foodies have embraced a term to help explain the physical sensation produced when food is in our mouths, including how it feels as it touches our teeth, tongue, and the roof of our mouth: “mouthfeel.” The term mouthfeel helps us explain how we feel about a food item. It helps us describe how much we enjoy (or dislike) an item through an expression of how grainy, smooth, viscous, fatty, creamy, oily, sticky, dry, powdery, or more it is when it comes to describing that mealtime experience. It’s all about the textures we sense as we eat. Some might say that mouthfeel has more impact than taste or flavor in determining whether a person chooses one food over another.
Studies have shown that the texture of food even impacts our caloric perception and overall consumption of foods. Many Americans avoid healthy, good-for-you veggies due to the mouthfeel they produce. (Know anyone that hates the snap of a tomato? Or the sponginess of a mushroom?) We often convince ourselves that something must be higher or lower in calories simply by how it feels in our mouths as we are eating it. For example, most people consider crunchy or raw foods to be “healthy.” Silky or smooth are usually ways we describe “fancy” or “elevated” foods.
Textural expectations are mostly nurtured as a result of our experiences, our upbringing, and our cultural backgrounds. We developed a mouthfeel memory bank that is applied every time we take a bite. Pasta lovers are quick to describe a firm and chewy texture as better in cooked pasta than when it’s mushy or soft. Creamy, thick sauces are usually more desirable too, providing a richer mouthfeel as they coat the inside of the mouth while being enjoyed. We expect a crunch from a cracker, or the snap of an apple’s skin when we bite into it, indicating freshness. (Did you know that most people think loud crunching chips taste better?) Usually, these textural sensations are part of our subconscious appreciation of the foods we enjoy, even though they are a visceral factor in our food love.
This might be why we squirm when we experience unexpected textures. We are missing the reference point in our mouthfeel memory. Slimy textures tend to trigger a red flag to most people, usually indicating rotted food or something that is no longer at its prime. You might avoid congealed oatmeal or soggy popcorn. The texture of deliciousness changes though as we visit different people around the world. Take the Japanese. They enjoy slimy foods so much that they’ve created a special word for them: neba-neba. They use this word to describe fermented soybeans (natto), seaweeds, mountain yams (tororo), and nameko mushrooms which often go in miso soup. It should come as no surprise that the Japanese language has over 400 words for texture, compared to about 80 used in English.
Not all unexpected textures need to produce a gag reflex. Molecular gastronomists are food geeks who like to mess with our traditional expectations of food. They like to deconstruct food into base elements, providing a taste you recognize with a non-traditional mouthfeel. If you get the chance, try a flavored vapor or foam, solid cocktails, or vegetable bubbles.
Texture is impacted throughout the whole eating experience:
- During our first bite, our mouth begins to perceive initial sensations like firmness, thickness, size, and shape.
- As we chew, making pieces of food smaller and smaller, we start sensing things like smoothness, creaminess, and fattiness.
- When the food items pass our palate and tongue, the saliva working in your mouth can result in experiencing graininess or gumminess.
- Finally, as we swallow, the residue left in the mouth, like fats or oils, results in an aftertaste that creates a lingering flavor or taste.
No matter how the texture is developed or experienced, whether crunchy, chewy, creamy, or spongy, there’s no denying that we crave and enjoy food based on the mouthfeel it creates.
Texture regularly comes into play in the food labs at ZENB as we seek to develop products that are enjoyable while harnessing nature’s goodness. Our commitment to using as much of the whole vegetable as possible, including skins, stems, seeds, and cores, requires us to really consider the mouthfeel of every delicious product in our portfolio. Our new ZENB Veggie & Fruit Bites are a good example. Developed across months of research and development, each unique flavor combination merges a well-known veggie with fruits and spices, creating a mix of chewiness and crunch in each bite-sized whole veggie snack with a whole lot of flavor. Try each of our five flavors today and see how well you can describe the textural nuances from one veggie and fruit combo to the next. When you do, don’t forget to tell us about it on Instagram and Facebook!