Our perception of a product's texture is perhaps one of the most important characteristics in deciding whether we like the foods we eat. Yet the texture of a food is made up of a dynamic range of sensory interpretations that change rapidly as we bite into and chew any product.
As a result, the question in this dynamic setting becomes: how can the industry begin to think about balancing a food's texture? According to new research, the answer might lie more in looking at an 'overall balance' than at specifics.
Dr Paul Breslin from the Monell Chemical Sciences Center, USA, told FoodNavigator that this approach could help the food industry improve consumers' enjoyment of foods - in particular noting that overall mouthfeel as a result of 'fatty' and 'astringent' tastes needs to be balanced.
The texture of a food is inherently built in to it by its ingredients and processes that it may undergo during production.
Indeed, the term texture generally describes the physical property of a material related to its rheology (how it deforms or flows) - and it is the physical flow and break down of these ingredients that we primarily associate with the idea of texture.
As a result, texture is primarily the response of the tactile senses - like the senses of touch both in our fingers and more importantly in our mouths - and their interaction with the product.
However understanding the texture of a food also involves kinesthetics (sensing of movement and position of foods in the mouth) and to some degree input from our eyes and ears - which also play a role in the expectation and perception of foods in a dynamic way.
For example, the colour of a food may indicate texture cues (for example brown fruit may be softer), while the crunch sound that accompanies biting into something hard also plays a role in how we perceive its texture.
A dynamic process
The texture of a food affects the way it is perceived at the initial bite, but more importantly during the dynamic process of chewing (or mastication).
In this context, the texture of a food can have an important role in consumer liking not only due to the physical rheology of a food but due to the way that food structure and texture interact with the release of flavour and aroma compounds.
In addition the way in which we chew and swallow a food can be modified by the types of ingredients used and how ingredient particles are perceived during consumption.
Research by Hutchings and colleagues, for example, has suggested that different parts of a food may be caught between opposing teeth surfaces at the same time during chewing - and this can influence the mastication process by altering the duration or force applied during the chewing cycle.
Speaking to FoodNavigator, Breslin explained that one way to tackle the problem of texture was to aim for a better overall 'balance' between fatty and astringent mouthfeels. Indeed, recent findings from his group – published in Current Biology – suggest that astringent and fatty ingredients are like ‘the yin and yang of the food world’, sitting on opposite ends of a sensory spectrum.
"The opposition between fatty and astringent sensations allows us to eat fatty foods more easily if we also ingest astringents with them," he said.
Breslin said the industry “needs to pay attention" to new findings in this area because they highlight the 'common sense' fact that consumers "will want to finish a product or a meal with their mouth feeling balanced in its lubrication.”
He said while it may seem common sense, it also raises an interesting question for industry research and development professionals of whether certain pairings make more sense “because of the oral sensory properties of the fats and astringents involved.”