Great taste is the ultimate reason people buy your products. However, taste isn't limited to flavors. From the first bite to the last, the food's texture – how the product looks, feels and is experienced in the mouth – is a critical determinant of the overall eating experience, that mysterious attribute that makes a product so desirable and yummy.
Finding a way to articulate what individuals – even experienced R&D people – mean when they try to describe different textures is challenging. Two ingredient companies took up that challenge last year, each developing a lexicon so their R&D staffs and those of their food & beverage customers can talk the same language.
"Trying to describe texture without an agreed-to vocabulary is like trying to describe what happy or sad feels like," says Matt Patrick, vice president of research and development at TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md. "Everyone experiences them individually, and the lack of agreement about language is limiting."
In the words of Joseph Light, global head of development at National Starch/Corn Products International: "By translating what consumers like and dislike about food texture into scientific attributes whose intensity we can measure, we can make a direct, rapid connection to a texture solution to support what we know will be an appealing finished product."
Manipulating texture is an excellent way to differentiate products in a competitive marketplace. Planning texture early will also help developers avoid expensive reformulation or the addition of sweeteners, fat, flavors or other, more costly ingredients.
Formulating toward an ideal texture is a great challenge for product developers, particularly in low-fat or lighter products. Food technologists, sensory magicians in the kitchen, continually ask: Are my crackers crispy or too crumbly? Is my yogurt smooth and creamy or watery? And then there are the quality issues impacted by texture changes over a product's shelf-life. Bread can become hard and stale, crackers soft and soggy, and dairy desserts often break down and experience syneresis.
Different textures can cause food or drink to linger on the tongue longer, coat the mouth and throat or achieve the opposite and clear the palate quickly. Product development becomes easier if you can actually measure various texture attributes in your product, as well as in your texture target, so you can begin to formulate toward a particular goal.
TIC's key solution, of course, is gums – actually a number of individual hydrocolloids and blended gum systems, as well as products at the leading edge of hydrocolloid technology. They give formulators the opportunity to control the eating experience, shelf life and appearance of the finished products.
TIC Gums' lexicon is part of the company's Texture Revolution, which includes some research on the topic and a mapping tool. The word list is extensive and addresses important texture-related issues through the entire sensory experience, starting with sight and ending with mouth clearing or coating with other terms that describe the entire eating or drinking experience.
Just as obvious, National Starch's solution is starch – also augmented by a number of other textural and nutritional ingredients. "National Starch's Texicon language helps people understand the building blocks of a consumer-preferred texture in a range of applications around the world," explains Helen Simpson, sensory manager. "We now know that what a consumer calls 'creamy' is actually a multifaceted texture experience that results from differing intensities of at least 15 sensory and rheology attributes, such as mouthcoating, meltaway and oral viscosity. Understanding this gives us the ability to characterize various products by the specific, precise attributes that constitute a creamy experience in a product like yogurt, and plot them on a texture map."
National Starch/Corn Products (www.foodinnovation.com) also offers Dial-In Texture Technology, a comprehensive data-driven approach that provides a shortened path on the road to texture perfection and translation of the multifaceted texture experience.
So I now expect the low-cal Alfredo sauce I buy to be rich and luscious, not translucent and separating, even though it's lacking some fat. Are we speaking the same language?
Let your mouth be the judge.