Do you often crave something crispy such as potato chips? You want a certain texture. Crispiness is just one of the many familiar textures of food, and texture is just as important to our food enjoyment as appearance, taste, and aroma. Texture, therefore, refers to the aspects of a food that we can feel with our fingers, tongue, mouth, or teeth.
Food can be liquid, solid, semisolid, hard, crisp, crunchy, crumbly, chewy, creamy, soft, smooth, lumpy, rough, or gritty, to name but several possibilities. All these are physical characteristics that come from the structure of food, of which water plays an important role. We not only crave certain tastes, but we also crave certain textures.
Often the texture words we use are specific to the type of food we are eating. For example, an easy to chew steak may be described as tender, whereas an easy to chew fruit may be described as soft. We expect certain foods to have certain textures and the absence of these textures is a mark of bad quality. Ice cream should be creamy, never gritty. Celery should be crunchy never limp and leathery. The same goes for apples. Bread should be soft, chewy, and moist, never hard and dry. As food is stored, its texture is affected, and undesirable changes in textures is one of the principal marks of aged food.
You may also hear the term mouthfeel, which is especially used for wine but also some foods. Mouthfeel also describes texture. While we perceive texture with our tongue, palates, and teeth, food scientists measure the texture of food by applying forces to it such as cutting, compressing, or shearing. They are determining the rheological aspects of the food.
Rheology is the science of the deformation and flow of matter. To make sense of this, simply think of how a food reacts when you bite into it or apply any kind of force to it, such as when cutting it with a knife, or stretching or squeezing it with your hands. Does the food break or bend? Is it elastic, like dough? If you pour a liquid, how fast does it flow? What is its viscosity? These are all texture. Food texture, like any other aspect of food, can, therefore, be measured objectively through controlled experiments, or subjectively, through tasting panels.
We routinely modify the texture of foods through heat application (cooking), cutting and chopping, blending, mixing, grating, etc. Wet food might be dried and fats and liquids might be emulsified. Food may be completely transformed, as from a liquid to a gel or a foam. When baking, wet ingredients are transformed to solid. Although modern cuisine often seeks to modify food textures in surprising ways, what we consider proper food texture is still one of the most important attributes used to determine food quality.
To learn more about food texture and how it contributes to our sense of taste, see Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste by Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbæk. 1Vaclavik, Vickie, and Elizabeth W. Christian. Essentials of Food Science, 4th Ed. Springer, 2014.,2MOURITSEN, OLE G. Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste; Trans. by Mariela Johansen. COLUMBIA University Press, 2017.
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