Imagine yourself on a rainy morning, sitting by a window, wrapped in a warm blanket and with your favourite book. Wouldn’t a warm cup of chai and some hot, crunchy pakoras be so perfect right now? What is it about this wholesome food combination that satiates us? Is it the taste, smell, feeling, texture or all of them together?
Texture is present everywhere, including food which sustains all life. Texture in food is felt with our fingers, tongue, palate and teeth, and is an important attribute used to assess the quality of food. When describing food, we often talk about the flavour and taste but the way food feels in our mouth also drives the way we experience it. The term ‘mouth feel’ is used to describe these physical sensations, which help us decide whether a certain food is appealing or not.
The five most common categories of food texture are watery, firm, crunchy, creamy and chewy
Firm texture in vegetables
chewy texture in bread
Other detailed adjectives for food textures include: gritty, lumpy, crispy, crumbly, creamy, smooth, rough, solid, liquid, and soft. Food texture is not only determined by the sensory receptors in the mouth but also by the noise it makes as we chew it. We are conditioned to want crispier, saltier and fatty food, while we find slimy and mushy food unappealing. The sound food makes can be heard in our inner ear as we bite into it, and heightens our focus on the meal.
crunchy crispy food
Have you ever wondered how soft idlis with the contrasting texture of sambar feel more wholesome and complete?Combinations of different textures elevate our food experience and make them more enjoyable. Here are some conventional examples of contrasting textures that are compatible with each other:
- Soup and Bread/Crackers
- Idli with Sambar
- Roti and Dal
- Ice Cream with Nuts
- Chips & Dip
- Yogurt & Granola
- Curd and Vada
- Milk with cornflakes
The visual texture of food also influences the dietary choices we make. It is well known that the colour and presentation of certain foods in the form of advertisements are marketed towards attracting the consumer. An example of this is the way chocolate is advertised to make it look more decadent and creamy. This makes the product look sweeter primarily due to its visual presentation. Apart from that, texture descriptions have also become more elaborate.
Not only does food texture affect the taste, but it also determines the quantity of food consumed. Some studies have shown that people perceive hard/rough food to have fewer calories in comparison to soft and smooth food, even though scientifically, the calorie contents are the same.
The way we cook an ingredient also impacts the taste and texture of the food. For example, potatoes can be cooked in various forms such as mashed potatoes, French fries, baked potatoes, potato curry etc. Hence it is possible to create a myriad of textures from a single ingredient
different forms of potato
Additionally, our food palate develops significantly during childhood, and texture plays a key role in our inclination towards certain types of food. It affects our eating habits to a point where similar textures might produce the same feeling despite tasting differently.
Scientists believe there may be an evolutionary function to enjoying or disliking particular textures that echoes our primitive ancestors’ reliance on the natural world for sustenance. I often find that many people do not enjoy the sliminess of brinjal, okra or seaweed oysters. There is a strange link between familiarity and liking. These preferences develop with a combination of beliefs and attitudes within a community that is culturally imparted.
The next time you eat a scrumptious meal, I hope you are not only reminded of the flavours of the food but the perfect balance that is created with the presence of textures. This can be a driving force to apply all our senses to consciously understand our eating practices and explore different foods.