We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of eating a cookie that was out of the original package for some time. Although the taste remains the same, that crunchiness so characteristic of the product is lost and the experience of eating it is no longer the same.
Many people believe that taste is the main, and often the only, feature that will define the acceptability of a food.
This may be true in many cases. But it’s not always so.
Just think about the different sensations that we experience when consuming, for example: a potato chips, a chicken nugget, a puree or an ice cream, to conclude how important the texture of the products is.
Rheology, an area of the science that studies the deformations and flows of matter, finds its application in the food sector with respect to the texture of food. The rheological characteristics of a product will dictate aspects such as viscosity, consistency and elasticity.
In this blog post, we will understand how the texture of a product can affect its acceptance with consumers. We will understand the most important texture characteristics and find out what to do to ensure their presence in food.
The science behind the texture of food
To understand how important texture is for the recognition of a food, researchers conducted an experiment in which they altered the texture of a variety of products without changing their taste.
Of all participants who tasted foods with altered texture, only 40.7% were able to guess correctly the food, based on taste alone. Thus, the researchers concluded that texture is a key factor in the acceptance of a food product.
Studies on the texture of foods also help in the formulation of it and in process decisions. It has already been proved, for example, that ice crystals measuring 40 microns or more are perceptible to human palate.
In the manufacture of ice cream, it is always preferred that the freezing process is carried out quickly, in order to avoid the growth of crystals that exceed this size limit. Thereby maintaining the velvety and soft texture characteristic of this type of product.
This texture of the ice cream is also possible due to its fat content, which also contributes to a full-bodied flavor and a more uniform melting, making the rheology of the ice cream to be remarkable and unique.
Besides that, the texture of a food will have a great influence on its taste. More consistent foods tend to have a less pronounced flavor than those softer and moister.
The acidity of gummy bears, for example, is only tolerable due to its sturdy texture, which allows a gradual release of flavor. On the other hand, the sandwiches usually contain some sauce, which will be responsible for carrying the flavors present in the product, promoting a more complete sensory characteristic.
The relationship of consumers with texture
The way the consumer relates to the texture of a product also differs according to each target audience. Adults, for example, prefer more complex textures. Which explains the success of products such as chocolate bars added with nuts, something not so popular among children.
In addition, consumers can be categorized according to their preferences regarding the texture of foods.
According to researchers at The Understanding & Insight Group in the US and New Zealand, consumers can be divided into:
- Chewers: those who prefer to chew food for an extended time, as with chewing gum and gummy bears.
- Suckers: those who prefer harder foods that dissolve in their mouths over time, like some candies.
- Smooshers: lovers of soft, creamy foods that do not require much effort to chew, such as mashed potatoes and pudding.
- Crunchers: those that do not resist crunchy foods, which produce a distinctive sound when chewed. This is the case with chips and breaded foods such as chicken nuggets.
By the way, this latter group is numerous and encompasses most consumers. To understand this phenomenon, we must answer the question:
Why do we like crunchiness so much?
Crunchiness is associated by consumers with fresher and better quality food. In addition, they also consider this type of product attractive and pleasurable.
Sounds produced by the chewing of crunchy foods modulate people’s perception of characteristics such as moisture, texture, and taste. Also, in groups of sensory analysis, consumers generally use the term “sonority” to judge the intensity of crunchiness.
Although universally adored, crunchiness can be defined in different ways, depending on the perception of consumers. In New York, for example, a research has found that people define a crunchy food as one that is firm, stiff, breaks easily when deformed, and produces a distinctive sound when consumed.
Whereas in Uruguay and Spain, terms such as “characteristic sound” or “hard, resistant, solid” were used to describe crunchy foods, with responses changing with the country.
A proposed universal definition states that crunchy foods are those “dense texture which, when chewed with molar teeth, undergoes a series of fractures that emit relatively high and low-frequency sounds.”
Regarding the food itself, the oil used for frying will have a direct influence on the crunchiness of the product. The crisps crunchiness, for example, is positively correlated with the frying time. In addition, the absorption of the oil by the product increases as the humidity of the product is lost.
Further, frying oils and fats must have a neutral taste and do not contain after taste. The function of these ingredients in the product is, in addition to enhancing the taste of the food, improve the texture, giving the desired crunchiness.
With the growing concern about health among the population, the best way to maintain the proper texture of fried foods while minimizing health side effects is using fats with zero content of trans fatty acids and/or low content of saturated fatty acids.
Breaded products: the combination of crunchiness and flavor
Breaded products are extremely popular, especially meat products derived from poultry such as steaks and chicken nuggets, for example. This popularity is due, in part, to an unmistakable texture, marked by crunchiness.
To produce a quality breading result, however, one must be aware of the choice of breadcrumbs for the process.
The traditional meal, also known as cracker, has only flour and water in its formulation, presenting dense grains and firm texture. It is a more economical alternative, suitable for immersion frying.
American-style meal, on the other hand, is rounded with bits of crust, looking like homemade breadcrumbs. It gives the product a premium appearance, having dense particles and that are resistant to processing. This type of meal has good performance in almost all types of products.
Finally, the Japanese style meal has an extended shape and is free of crusts. Its texture and appearance make it a good option for both fried and baked products.
Evaluating the texture of food
Understanding the importance of food texture, it is necessary to know the ways of evaluating this characteristic in the food industry.
The first step is to know what consumers expect from the texture of a particular food. This information can be obtained through surveys and questionnaires.
From this point, after the development of the food, two types of tests can be conducted.
The first of them is a sensory analysis. In which potential consumers or a trained group will test the product and evaluate the texture of the product. This method is more subjective and, because of this, may present large variations in results.
Another form of evaluation would be the use of instrumental analyzes. In which using high technology equipment, the variables that make up the texture of a product are evaluated.
Ideally, both methods are used together and have their data correlated to produce a more complete result for the company.
As well as flavor and aroma, texture is also an essential factor in the acceptance of a food product.
Knowing the rheological patterns of foods, as well as defining methods for analyzing them, can have a major role in the success of a new formulation.
Among the most relevant texture characteristics in the food sector, crunchiness stands out, and can be achieved by means of suitable frying processes and also by the development of breaded products. It is necessary to pay attention to the quality of the chosen ingredients and to their suitability to the type of texture that one wishes to achieve.