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Ever wondered why you find yourself consistently reaching for certain foods over others? Sure, you could put it down to those foods being your ‘favourite’, but what sets it apart from everything else in the buffet?
You might think it comes down to taste alone, but Director for Deakin’s Centre for Advanced Sensory Science (CASS), Professor Russell Keast, says the way those foods feel in your mouth has a big impact on how much you like them.
‘These tactile preferences, combined with our textural sensitivities, have a huge effect on consumption. They determine why we often reach for certain foods over others and eat much more of them.’
Tactile perception in the oral cavity (in other words, the way the mouth perceives the textures of foods, and the way food behaves while eating it) is an under-researched area. However, Prof. Keast says food texture is strongly linked to the perceived quality of food. Because of this, knowing your favourite food texture could also be the key to making healthier food choices.
According to Prof. Keast, we still understand very little of what goes on in our mouths. ‘And most of the knowledge we do have is assumed from what we know about touch,’ he explains.
However, we do know when it comes to food–feel preference, people tend to fall into four groups:
‘For most of us it’s easy to see which segment we fall into when we think about the things we like to eat,’ he explains.
‘Crunchers might like chocolate with nuts whereas chewers would prefer a cherry ripe or chewy caramel. Suckers might like something that melts, and squishers might prefer a bar of chocolate with marshmallow inside. ‘
Prof. Keast explains there are three different surfaces in the mouth: ‘The tongue, the hard palate, and the gingiva between the teeth and gums. This is different from fingertips, which only have one surface,’ he says.
‘Little is actually known about how texture is perceived in the mouth. There are three or four different sensors in the mouth some deep, some shallow. We want to find out more about how they work and how they influence our liking of different textures and ultimately our consumption of different foods.’
'These tactile preferences, combined with our textural sensitivities, have a huge effect on consumption. They determine why we often reach for certain foods over others and eat much more of them.'
Professor Russell Keast,
Centre for Advanced Sensory Science (CASS), Deakin University
In his research with international collaborators, Prof. Keast has run several different experiments to test sensitivity to texture in the mouth. One of these involves using different thicknesses of fibres, and dyes with different textures and lines.
‘If you’re very sensitive to texture you can determine which way the lines are going when the dye is placed in your mouth,’ he says.
‘Another experiment we tried with our international collaborators was placing letters on people’s tongues. But we found while some could tell when the letters changed, they couldn’t articulate what the actual letter was. So it seems we can’t use our tongues to read just yet.’
Prof. Keast explains there’s an increasing need for the food industry to take a closer look at texture and get it right. ‘It’s also about improving public health. The food industry is being proactive in wanting to reduce problem nutrients like salt, sugar and fat, while maintaining consumer satisfaction.
‘Small changes in these ingredients can make a big difference at the population level if they are highly consumed foods,’ Prof Keast explains.
‘A stealth approach is needed and modifying texture is an ideal way of doing that. For example, we can make changes to the structure of food which can increase the perceived quality while reducing problem nutrients, without people knowing what’s happening.’
This can be done on a personal level too, with a little mindfulness. Once you’ve figured out what your favourite food texture is, you can use it to your advantage to choose healthier food options. That way, you’re making a few healthier choices, and you’re not sacrificing the enjoyment or satisfaction of eating it.
Find out what your favourite food texture is below…
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