If you’re anything like me, you might choose, or avoid foods based not on how they taste, but on texture. Mouthfeel, the sensory integration of texture, flavor, and aroma, is just as important as the flavor of a product or dish. It’s multi-sensory food. You might not notice mouthfeel if it’s right, but you know immediately if it’s off when you take your first bite. It detracts from the flavor more than you’d expect.
So it might not be the flavor you aren’t a fan of – it might be the combination of the flavor, texture, and aroma. Personally, I love ketchup (who doesn’t?) but I won’t come within a 10-mile radius of a raw tomato! A bit of an exaggeration on my part, but it illustrates how much texture affects what we like to eat and drink. I enjoy creamy and smooth textures in my chocolate, yogurt, and protein beverages, but I prefer crunchy or crispy textures for salty snacks and vegetables.
Aroma Drives Taste
Aroma works in a similar way. Did you know that if you hold your nose as you swallow food, you can hardly taste it? Liken it to having a cold…. That’s because much of what we taste is actually our olfactory receptors at work. For foods that have a strong, polarizing scent, like steamed broccoli, cabbage, or sauerkraut, some consumers will avoid trying them altogether because they assume it will taste just like it smells.
Texture is Key
Another polarizing thing: inclusions. I personally like inclusions like fruit, nuts, and yes… raisins in my oatmeal cookies. But, I’m picky. I choose a yogurt with real fruit pieces, but I avoid orange juice with pulp. Inclusions often add something special to a product to make it seem more premium or entice a consumer to try something new.
There are a variety of textures launching across new food and beverage products. According to Innova, a market research company, among the most popular textures in the US are: creamy, smooth, crispy, crunchy, and thin. Consumers are drawn to products with multi-sensory food descriptors, as they better illustrate what to expect from new product offerings. Innovation happens when you find a texture in an unexpected place; a thin, crispy cookie or a creamy protein bar provide something consumers might not have seen before.
There are some foods you can’t re-create by flavor alone: texture is key. The ultimate example is a s’more. Think of all the products now available in s’mores flavor. Cookies, milkshakes, yogurt, breakfast pastries, cereals, and sports drinks all come in s’mores flavor. But none of these products quite captures the essence of a s’more. What they lack is the breaking of the graham cracker, the warm marshmallow giving way on your first bite, the cool chocolate mingling with the warm marshmallow, and the way all these elements combine in one treat.
Next time you sit down to a meal, take note of the multi-sensory food experience you have. Is it enticing? Does it make you hungry? Pay attention to the mouthfeel. Is it creamy enough? Does it fulfill your expectations? Look for new, interesting textures in products you buy, because you never know – it may just surprise you!