We have things that we like and dislike to eat that varies from person to person. Some of the most common disliked foods are avocado, tofu, oysters, sardines, blue cheese, and cilantro. While some of these are known to be off-putting by their smells (stinky blue cheese, soapy cilantro, and fishy sardines), others tend to be off-putting because of their textures.
When asked the reason why someone dislikes a food item their answer, if not the taste, may be along the lines of “Oh, I like the taste but it just has a really weird texture.” So you can see that the texture of a food plays a really big part into whether we like it or not. Because of this, texture is one of the big modalities we look at in sensory analysis.
What is Texture?
In sensory science, the acceptable definition of texture is “..the sensory and functional manifestation of the structural, mechanical and surface properties of food detected through the senses of vision, hearing, touch, and kinesthetics.” (Szczesniak, 2002)
There are three types of texture:
- Visual Texture- texture as perceived by sight
- Tactile Texture- texture as perceived by touch
- Auditory Texture- texture as perceived by sound
Think about if you’ve ever looked at food product to judge whether you’d eat it or not. This usually happens every time you go to the grocery store or the farmer’s market. You stroll around and you look at the fruit, vegetables, or meat. Before you touch, you’d look. Take grapes for example. One look at a shriveled and wrinkly grape will tell you about the “freshness”. We use our eyes to assess the texture and the texture tells us about the quality of the food.
If you love avocados as much as I do, then you know that you must make sure that it is ripe before you eat it. No one wants to cut open an avocado just to find that it’s not ripe. To determine ripeness, we often use the technique of gently pressing on the avocado. We assess the softness or hardness, then make our judgement. The softer it is, the more ripe. By using our tactile texture perceptions, we can determine whether foods are ready to eat.
In college, I’d often find half eaten bags of potato chips around my dorm room. I hate to waste food, so usually I’d finish it, not remembering how long it had been there. One bite into my days old potato chip, I already know it is stale. Instead of the high pitched crispy sound that you get when it’s fresh, a low crunch sound is heard indicating to me to stop eating. Auditory texture cues can let us know when foods are past their most optimal points.
Components of a Texture Attribute:
Texture attributes or characteristics are words that are used to describe the texture of a product. It is always accompanied by its exact definition, a technique to evaluate it, and then the scale it is evaluated on.
- Definition-Unlike the other modalities like flavor and aroma, texture attributes usually have an clear and precise definition of what it is. For example: The hardness of a sample is the amount of force or pressure required to compress the sample between the molar teeth.
- Technique– The Technique is directions on how to evaluate the attribute. For hardness, it would be to place the sample evenly between the top and bottom of your molar teeth. Bite down evenly and assess the texture. Repeat following samples on the same side of the mouth.
- Scale– The scale is the tool that you use to describe the texture attribute. The scale can have two endpoints. For the attribute hardness one end of the scale may be soft, and the other end may be hard. The sample is then placed somewhere on the scale to describe the hardness.
Texture in sensory analysis is important for food and for non-food related products as well. Depending on what you are looking at, there may be visual, tactile, or auditory texture attributes. Using the components of texture, we can analyze our food. That in turn can help us understand our food products better.