Ever wondered why some foods just feel so satisfying to eat? Imagine biting into a decadent, rich slice of chocolate cake, a bag of crunchy, salty potato chips, or a plump, explode-in-your-mouth heirloom tomato fresh from the farmer’s market. These foods don’t just taste good; they feel good. This feeling—a magical combination of taste, texture, aroma, sound and even the chewing experience itself—is called “mouthfeel,” and creating foods that deliver optimal “mouthfeel” is one of the hottest trends in the food industry.
If you’ve ever been wine tasting before, you may already be familiar with the concept of mouthfeel. In wine tasting, it’s that astringent, puckering sensation you experience after drinking a highly tannic wine. But mouthfeel counts in more than just wine. The term quite literally refers to how a food feels when it’s inside your mouth, and whether a food produces a good or bad mouthfeel influences whether consumers like this product.
Everything from color to crunch affects a consumer’s perception of taste, according to Dr. Christopher Loss, a professor of culinary science at the Culinary Institute of America. In a recent interview with Blot Magazine, Dr. Loss says small changes in a food’s preparation and presentation affect whether a food tastes good for consumers and whether the experience of eating this food is a pleasurable one.
Mouthfeel has a major impact on consumer food purchases. Understanding this phenomenon is essential to creating more desirable food products. Here’s what your business needs to know:
Food texture impacts health perception.
Mouthfeel also impacts how “healthy” a food is perceived to be. Healthy foods like carrot sticks, for example, are crunchy and crisp, while indulgent, high-calorie foods like ice cream and fudge are a creamier texture. Of course, there are plenty of unhealthy foods that are crunchy, too, like a bag of chips. Healthy foods, like low-fat frozen yogurt, can be low in calories but still creamy like ice cream. Folks who want an indulgent dessert without the calorie guilt can enjoy a creamy frozen yogurt and not feel like they’re compromising their diet. On the flip side, when Burger King launched its new lower-calorie French fries ("Satisfries"), the company opted for a rougher texture by making the fries crinkled, rather than their full-fat, smoother counterparts. The rougher, crinkled texture gives the perception the fries are a healthy option, making it easier for fast food consumers to justify the indulgence.
Texture and chew matter for packaged foods.
Words like crunchy, crispy, juicy, tough, grainy and runny describe how a food behaves inside the mouth. No one wants to bite into a potato chip and discover it’s chewy rather than crisp and crunchy. When it comes to packaged foods—and prepackaged meals, in particular—nailing the right texture can be tough. This is especially true as customers demand more foods that have minimal processing and preservatives. Millennials, predicted to surpass Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest generation, prefer fresh, less-processed food, according to the NPD Group, which finds this generation opting en masse for RTE meals made fresh in-store or fast, casual restaurants with freshly prepared foods.
Food companies can capitalize on the trend for fresh foods by zeroing in on the mouthfeel properties most closely associated with freshness—crispness, crunchiness, juiciness—and ensuring these textures are front and center in their foods.
Pairing creates balance.
Ever wonder why a glass of red wine goes so well with a rich cheese and meat sampler? According to research reported by Science Daily, this classic astringent-fatty food pairing has everything to do with mouthfeel. Foods that have feelings of dryness or roughness pair nicely with fatty foods; the oil balances out the dryness. With an understanding of how mouthfeel impacts what foods consumers enjoy eating together, brands can formulate RTE meals or other food pairings that leverage consumers' predisposed taste preferences for these combinations.