I work in the food processing industry. More specifically, my company manufactures and markets a range of starch and related products, so I have to openly admit my textural “bias.” After all I earn my living selling the most widely used texturizers in the world.
Just about everyone is aware that the experience of consuming food involves more than the simple intake of nutrients. The experience involves all the senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, even hearing plays a role (would eating granola be the same experience if there were no delightful crunching sounds accompanying the chewing?). Yet in my experience, when we develop food products, we tend to take almost for granted three or four of the variables in the matrix. That is, we assume that the non-taste sensory characteristics are implicit in the food system, and tend to focus on the “taste” element first.
This is doing things in the wrong order. Let’s say you’re in the pickle business. Customers love your pickles and you’re looking to do a line extension to capitalize on your success. “I’ve got it!” says your marketing whiz kid, “thick, creamy pickle-flavoured pudding! We’ll take the dessert category by storm.” Well, maybe not. I polled some of our office staff on this and was rewarded with all sorts of interesting expressions, ranging from nausea to blank stares. Everyone agreed that they liked the flavour of pickles, yet all referred to the “crunch” as an important element of the experience. A simple example perhaps, yet it highlights that a perfect flavour is not well received in the wrong substrate.
How often do we consider that flavour is inextricably linked with the physical characteristics of the system it’s imbedded in? Isolate the flavour system used in vanilla ice cream. Present the flavour with cold sparkling water as the carrier and you have cream soda. In a simple starch paste you have pudding. And in hot water I’m not sure what you have, but it’s not ice cream and it doesn’t taste remotely like ice cream.
It’s clear that the perception of the flavour is very much affected by the textural part of the experience. Not surprisingly, if you survey the labels on new product offerings you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of the packages make a textural claim – words such as “thick,” “crunchy,” “smooth,” “crispy,” “chewy” and so on abound. In addition, as already noted, the perception of flavour is inextricably linked with the texture of the product. Now consider that this means that if you alter the texture in a food system, you’re also altering the perception of the flavour in the system.