“It doesn’t matter how it looks as long as it tastes good.”
This statement has long been my philosophy when it comes to cooking. The dishes I create (usually) taste okay – even really yummy, occasionally – but I stink at presentation.
Family and friends are usually quite forgiving when it comes to their sensory (sight, touch, smell) experiences with a food before the first bite. They tend to ignore looks and feel, and focus on taste.
Food buyers aren’t so forgiving. If their sensory experiences don’t meet expectations, that crucial first taste will never happen. Flavor isn’t everything, either. If the food doesn’t feel right, or pleasant, the first bite will also be the last.
Why is Texture Important?
This feel, or texture, is an important aspect of the customer’s sensory experience with a food product. For some foods, texture is an indication of the product’s freshness or ripeness. It also plays a significant role in most people's enjoyment of a product.
Chef Mario Batali claims that adding the word “crispy” helps sell a customer on a dish. “Crispy” makes them think of the pleasant experience of eating “crispy” foods like potato chips. He feels that adding "crispy" to the description of a recipe equates the dish with this pleasant experience. Other texture terms, such as “creamy” and “chewy” are also popular in narratives about food.
Beyond the label, people have texture expectations based on the type of food. For example, cereal should keep its crunch even after it’s been drenched in milk. Crackers should be crisp, but not so fragile that they turn into crumbs in the box.
What are the Characteristics of Texture?
Characteristics such as hardness, crispness, adhesiveness, fracturability, elasticity, gel strength, stiffness, and chewiness can be measured by texture analyzers. The early texture analyzers were trained professionals who observed and recorded their own experiences with a product. Recently, instruments that provide a more objective and scientifically repeatable method became available. Many food processors still use human testers sometimes as a check on the instrument results.
Food Texture Analyzers range from models that measure a single characteristic to models that will provide a texture profile of multiple sensory attributes. Some of the advanced capabilities simulate chewing with what is called a “Two Bite Test”. (Learn more about this test here.) Other texture attributes such as gel-strength, fruit ripeness and meat tenderness are being added to instrument testing capabilities. Some of the advanced multi-attribute texture analyzers come with multiple stages and dozens of probes.
Where Can You Use Texture Analysis?
Texture analysis is used throughout the supply chain. R&D departments evaluate alternative ways to produce defined textures in recipe development and, of course, Production evaluates texture to ensure consistent feel in the output of the manufacturing process.
Final Thoughts on Texture
Texture Analysis is a valuable addition to modern food processing. In today's market environment, customers have wide-ranging expectations about the sensory characteristics of food. The modern texture analyzers provide the food processor with the ability to engineer these characteristics into their product and control them in and out of production.
Keep an eye on our blog and website for more information on texture analysis to come! In the meantime, check out our explanation of Texture Profile Analysis (the "Two Bite Test") here:
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P.P.S. To learn more about how you can use Texture Analysis in your process, give us a call at 800-621-4778.