The Subtle Science of Food and Beverage Texture

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Our sensory experts reveal that creating palatable product texture and mouthfeel requires more than just a feeling

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Like taste, food and beverage texture greatly affects a product’s likability.
  • Studies show texture can influence perceptions of everything from taste to freshness.
  • Amongst the food and beverage industry, there is a less developed standard of language surrounding texture.
  • Our sensory scientists continue to study texture and refine the way our teams talk about it.
  • They’ve also developed a texture lexicon, and detail here how other companies can too.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

One question sensory scientists study is why certain foods are more likeable than others. The answer tends to involve all of the senses, which is why a sensory evaluation rates food and beverage products according to a long list of criteria including aroma, flavour and taste as well as appearance, touch and even the sound of a crunch or slurp.


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Taste is generally top priority amongst consumers, but texture also plays an important role. To better understand how texture affects overall product perception and create efficiencies in new product development, our sensory team in Europe has been growing their expertise on the subject. Leveraging this growing knowledge, here’s a primer on how to get your team aligned on the way you talk about texture. To learn how texture influences caloric intake, register for the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute’s upcoming webinar: Calorie Reduction: Formulating for sensory success.

Food and Beverage Texture Basics

The texture of a food helps to define and characterise it. Once a food has been liquified, most people find it much more difficult to identify. Take for instance a slice of pizza and a plate of pasta: the Italian ingredients that go both dishes are similar, but without the crunch of the crust or the chewiness of the noodles it’s hard to distinguish which is which.

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Beyond product recognition, texture contributes to a product’s overall appeal. Think about the last time you ate a potato crisp that was not as crispy or hard as anticipated. You may have automatically assumed the chip was less fresh than you’d like or that it had diminished flavour intensity. Similar biases exist across food and beverage applications, with food texture either negatively or positively influencing overall perceptions, including perception of nutrition. For example, studies have shown the thickness of a beverage can affect its sweetness perception—the thicker the beverage, the less sweet it is perceived as being while thinner drinks are perceived as being more sweet.

As these examples show, it can be a challenge for consumers as well as sensory panellists to separate one sensorial quality from another, which makes delivering ideal food texture a priority for chefs and food scientists. Foods that are perceived as being too thin, thick, lumpy or chewy can be regarded as unappetesing and unappealing, even if the aroma, flavour and taste are on point.

Putting Food and Beverage Texture to the Test

A sensorial evaluation can help determine how all of a product’s attributes contribute to its appeal. There is no single standard set of questions. One set of criteria would be used for developing a product optimised for the consumer experience while a different set of questions would give insights on how well a reformulated product matches the sensorial experience of the original.

When evaluating texture, the same principles apply as when evaluating basic tastes:

  • A person should concentrate on what they are experiencing and describe it as fully as possible. It’s ideal to be in a room with no distractions and to be able to record your findings independently to avoid bias, although a later discussion about your analysis can help to clarify the similar and contradictory attributes that define the product.
  • It’s useful to align on a vocabulary of texture attributes. In the same way the sensory world aligns on taste, flavour and aroma attributes, it’s important to define and use an agreed upon vocabulary for texture. As with a taste lexicon you can assemble a texture lexicon by listing out textural terms and definitions and, as appropriate, examples or “reference” products that epitomize a specific trait.
Developing a Texture Lexicon

Even without a formal program or guide, anyone in the food and beverage industry can fine-tune their ability to detect and explain different textures. Over lunch, see if you agree with your colleagues or friends on the difference between “crispy” and “crunchy” or if “friable” is the same as “crumbly”. You may find that different people have different definitions for words such as “thickness” and “viscosity”, or that some terms seem to be universally agreed upon. If talking about food fits anywhere in your job description—and chances are, it does—having even an informal texture lexicon to draw from can help.

To start growing your taste lexicon, come up with a few general attributes, definitions and examples specifically for your product category that can help you better communicate with customers, consumers and colleagues about the texture of a product. A broader texture lexicon can grow from there as you encounter, record and recognize more sensations. Using such language during product evaluations and general business process can ensure the key texture characteristics that are important to consumers are kept in mind throughout product development, which can reduce the time to launch.

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10 words to jumpstart your texture lexicon

The below attributes can help you and your team get started building a texture lexicon. In addition to the word of focus and its definition, we’ve included the food area in which this characteristic is generally found as well as food examples that typically do and do not exemplify the word.

Food Category Attribute Definition Not at all Extremely
Snacks Brittle The force with which the sample ruptures when biting down evenly using the front teeth Popcorn Tortilla crisps
Snacks Toothpacking Degree to which the sample sticks in between molars Skips Monster Munch, Puffed corn
Cheese Disintegration Rate The speed at which the sample goes from a solid to a liquid/paste during chewing or manipulation Mature cheddar, Parmesan (slow) Cream cheese [Philadelphia] (fast)
Sweet & Cereal Cohesiveness Degree to which bolus sample holds together in a mass during chewing Wine Gums Whirlfloc
Semi Solid Dairy Thickness The resistance to flow across the tongue Fat free natural yoghurt Fruitella/Starburst, Chewing gum
Semi Solid Sweet Smooth The smoothness of the sample, i.e. the absence of bits/lumps during manipulation Raspberry jam Cream cheese, Greek yoghurt
Beverages Astringent The feeling in the mouth described as puckering/dry and associated with tannic acid Water Maple syrup, Golden syrup
Meat Tenderness The lack of resistance of the sample during chewing Beef jerky Strong tea, Grapefruit juice
Meat Juicy The amount of juices released from the sample during chewing Beef jerky Jumbo sausage
Stocks & Soups Gelatinous The jelly-like consistency of the sample during manipulation Water Broth pots

When creating Kerry’s taste lexicon, we started with words and definitions that were relevant to every food and beverage category. Over time, this has grown to include increasingly specialised language and product examples. To learn more about our sensory team’s work with food and beverage texture, including how we can help you create winning products, contact us.

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