Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Taste & Texture, Part Two

Recommended Posts



<P>by Janet A Zimmerman

<P><A NAME="intro"><B>INTRODUCTION</B></A>

<P>A friend of mine spent quite a bit of time in Cambodia over the space of several years. On her last trip back, her hosts held a banquet in her honor, which featured, among other things, fried crickets. Being a gracious guest, she summoned up her resolve and tasted one. When she was back in the states relating this tale, I asked her what they tasted like. Her response: "The legs were sharp and stickery, the outside was really hard and crunchy, and the insides were squishy."

<P>The reason I'm starting out with this story is not to disgust anyone, nor to make a point about cultural food choices. It's this: if you read her description carefully, you should notice something. (Pause.) Did you get it? That's right -- her description says absolutely nothing about the taste of that cricket. It's all about texture. Sharp, stickery legs, hard carapace, squishy insides. Texture terms, every one.

<P>She's not alone in confusing taste and texture. For instance, if you read the copy on boxes of crackers or chips, chances are pretty good you'll see something about the "crispy" or "crunchy" taste. (Note to ad people: "crunchy" is not a taste.)

<P>Another example, this one from a cookbook. In The Elements of Taste, authors Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky describe one of their fourteen basic "tastes" as "Picante." "Peppery heat does have nerve endings on the tongue just like sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but they're not taste buds per se," they write. Continuing, they state, "Even if science doesn't recognize picante as a taste, try and tell that to a chef in Lima, Peru or Lafayette, Louisiana."

<P>With all due respect to these talented chefs, I still have to say, "Sorry guys, you can call 'picante' a taste until the world ends, but it's no more a taste than 'crunchy.'"

<P>Why do so many people mistake textures for tastes? In Part One of this class, I described how the same neural pathways that convey the basic tastes convey additional sensory information about the feel and temperature of what we're eating. Thus, we tend to experience all those sensations -- the actual tastes and flavors and the way our food feels in the mouth -- as part of one indivisible whole. It takes a moment or two of introspection to separate the various components of the sensory experience, and many people never take the time and effort to do so. Texture for them remains so invisible that they confuse it with taste.

<P>Yet texture is absolutely crucial in any gustatory experience, and concentrating consciously on texture as a separate element from taste is the second, very necessary step in analyzing the foods we cook and eat.

<P>We've seen (in Part One) that our sense of taste is limited to only a handful of true tastes. Of course, when you add in our olfactory sense, we can detect hundreds of flavors, but most of us actually experience a pretty limited range of flavors in our lives. In many cases, what provides the most variety in our food is texture.

<P>Other food cultures, including many Asian cuisines, treat texture more directly. They revel in some foods simply because of their texture. And often, the textures they love are textures that the typical Western palate finds unpleasant. I remember assisting a Chinese cooking instructor who was describing a certain mushroom he was adding to a dish. He translated the name as "slimy mushroom" and rather apologetically explained that the Chinese word for "slimy" just didn't have the negative connotations that we associate with the term.

<P>But while Americans might not consciously think about the texture of our foods, we care deeply about it. Take a look at any restaurant review, and count the number of words used to describe texture, compared with descriptions of taste. Crispy, crunchy, brittle, chewy, sticky, hard, soft, squishy, creamy, silky, slimy, oily, moist, succulent, dry and juicy are just some of the words you'll likely find that are all about texture, not taste.

<P>Don't believe me? Here's a sample, from the San Francisco Chronicle's online publication, sfgate.com: "The ravioli in cream sauce had an unpleasant grainy filling, the gnocchi were leaden and doughy, and fusilli in pink sauce was, well, fusilli in pink sauce. A braised veal shank was overshadowed by its accompaniment, toothsome strands of homemade tagliolini. The porcini cream sauce was good, but the mushrooms were sandy. There's nothing worse than grit in a sauce that's supposed to be buttery and smooth (italics all mine)."

<P>Not only do all the italicized terms describe texture, but also if you read carefully, you'll notice that no terms in the paragraph say anything directly about taste or flavor.

<P>Look more closely, and you'll discover another thing about texture. In many cases, what we like and dislike about the texture of our food is a direct result of what we expect from a particular food. "Chewy," for example, is a textural feature that we like when we're talking about caramel or beef jerky, but not when we're talking about steak or biscuits. Or, as another example, think about the texture of custard compared with that of scrambled eggs. Many people enjoy both, but few would want the former with the texture of the latter.

<P>From a very informal survey (okay, sitting around talking over drinks with a bunch of food-oriented friends), I think, too, that the textures we like -- even more so than the tastes we like -- are dependent on the foods we grew up with (which, of course, color our expectations of food for most of our lives). Okra is a perfect example. Of all the times I've heard people talk about okra, two things stand out. First, no one ever talks about the taste. Second, almost without exception, Southerners like it, Northerners say it's gross and slimy. Something tells me that it's no slimier in the North than in the South, so it seems likely that the difference lies in what the two groups grew up eating.


<P>"Texture," of course, is a very broad term, referring to different types of sensations. So what is texture, exactly? In the broadest sense, texture refers to the way food feels in the mouth, rather than how it tastes or smells. There are texture terms that describe the way foods feel against the teeth or how they coat the mouth, terms that refer to sensations of pain caused by some of the foods we eat, terms that describe the moisture content. Let's take a quick look.

<P>Toothy Terms

<P>Mention texture to the "person-on-the-street," and chances are very good he or she will think of the way food feels and breaks against the teeth. "Crunchy," "crispy," and "chewy," which might well be the three most commonly used texture terms, obviously refer to such sensations, as does the Italian term "al dente" (literally, "to the tooth"). (Interestingly, the term "toothsome" is not primarily about texture; its first dictionary meaning is "agreeable" or "palatable." However, restaurant reviewers seem to have kidnapped the term to stand in for "al dente," so I feel compelled to mention it here.)

<P>Obviously, since humans are born toothless, we don't start out liking chewy or crunchy food. We start out eating pureed food and gradually work our way up to foods that require more and more chewing. Because of this, soft foods can play an interesting psychological role for some of us -- many of our so-called "comfort foods" are soft, such as custard, hot cereal, Jello, or mashed potatoes. On the other hand, other people seem to develop an aversion to soft foods, which only illustrates how complex the human animal can be.

<P>As adults, most of us like the feel of crunching down on food, of biting into something that snaps against our teeth. Yes, we may like a perfectly silky pureed soup, but too much smooth, soft food soon begins to feel like a diet for an invalid or a toddler. Oftentimes, we'll incorporate a crunchy or crispy element into our softer foods for contrast: think of the topping on a gratin, toasted nuts sprinkled over ice cream, or the crust on a crème brulee.

<P>From an evolutionary point of view, a propensity for crunchy food is certainly valuable: it helps to protect our dental health.

<P>And what about "chewiness" as a texture? Good or bad? In this case, it's especially true that it depends on our expectations. We certainly like some chewy foods: caramel, for instance. Beef jerky and other dried salted meats may have been a nutritional necessity to our ancestors, but many modern folks now eat it voluntarily. Nothing else can explain the popularity of gum. Still, there's generally a limit to the amount of chewing we want to do, and our tolerance varies with the type of food we're eating.

<P>More than crunchiness, our liking for chewy foods varies from culture to culture as well as from individual to individual. Americans have the reputation for liking softer food than many European cultures: think of the typical American sandwich of soft bread, lunch meats and soft cheese, compared with a French baguette topped with some chewy ham and Gruyere. Of course, American preferences are changing, as witnessed by the burgeoning popularity of "artisan" breads -- denser and much chewier (as well as more flavorful) than the breads we ate in the 50's and 60's.

<P>Moisture Level

<P>Perhaps fewer texture terms we use refer to the moisture content of our food, but those we do use show up frequently. Descriptions of fruit and meat, for instance, almost always include some mention of the moisture level -- juicy oranges, succulent chicken, dry steak. Baked goods are also evaluated, at least partly, in terms of their moisture content, although the more straightforward term "moist" is the one most often applied to cakes and pastries.

<P>When we eat foods that are not intrinsically moist, we often add moisture: plain potatoes, bread, or pasta are not foods most people choose over the sauced, buttered and otherwise lubricated versions. Children dip their cookies into milk; adults dip their biscotti into wine or coffee. Since, as we saw in Part One, taste molecules have to be dissolved for our sense of taste to be effective, it's no wonder we prefer moisture in our foods.

<P>But we don't want all our foods laden with moisture. Again, we have to get back to expectations here. If something is supposed to be crisp or crunchy and it isn't, we don't say it's "moist," we say it's "soggy." Now, it may seem as if I'm splitting grammatical hairs, but my point is that to most of us, some foods are supposed to contain moisture, and some aren't, and never the twain shall meet.


<P>Much human ingenuity has gone into leavening. Cooks have used numerous methods including chemical reactions (baking powder or yeast) and physical structure (whipping cream or eggs) to lighten the texture of foods from breads to mousse to cakes to souffles.

<P>Of course, we can only manipulate the density of certain foods -- those that require mixing. Baked goods, desserts and sauces are the serious contenders for playing with texture. Meat and vegetables, for example, keep pretty much the same density level regardless of what we do to them.

<P>It may seem that as far as density goes, the lighter, the better, but this is not always so. Sometimes we want our desserts dense -- think of fudgy style brownies or flourless chocolate cake. Sometimes we like a dense, chewy bread rather than a light and fluffy Parker House roll. Sometimes we want clotted cream instead of whipped cream, or a quiche instead of a souffle.


<P>It might sound odd to talk about the burn of chiles as a texture. Certainly, this and other chemosensory irritations are categorically different from the kinds of textures we've been talking about so far. Yet all the burns and tingles we experience from mint, ginger, mustard and the like are non-gustatory, physical sensations directly caused by the foods we eat, and in that sense they fall into the broad category of texture.

<P>I began this class with a passage from Kunz and Kaminsky's book, in which I chided them for calling "picante" as a taste, but it's really not a surprising mistake. It seems bizarre to separate, for example, the taste of horseradish from the sinus-clearing, eye-burning sensations we experience when we eat it. Mint wouldn't be mint without the tingle; chiles aren't chiles without the burn.

<P>The fact is that we eat these foods much more for the irritation factor than for the taste or smell. Not that they don't have recognizable tastes and odors, but those are secondary to the feelings the foods cause.

<P>The big question about chemosensory irritations is this: Why do we seek them out? Why voluntarily eat things that irritate our mouths, eyes, throats, and, in some cases, our entire gastrointestinal tracts?

<P>There are various possibilities. Physically, it seems that capsaicin may increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices, which would aid in digestion. Ginger, which has its own, albeit milder, heat, also aids in digestion and helps to prevent nausea. Chiles (as well as other spices and herbs) inhibit the growth of pathogens in food, which is a boon from an evolutionary standpoint.

<P>Other reasons are more psychological. Paul Rozin, a psychologist who has written about food-related behavior, posits that we do it in the same spirit that we ride roller coasters. That is, regulated doses of fear or pain excite our brains and bodies, and we like that. These mild irritations also provide a break for the palate; by momentarily capturing our attention, they give us a chance to pause (figuratively at least, and sometimes literally) before continuing on with our eating.

<P>And, as we saw in Part One with bitter foods, although we start out avoiding foods that are unpleasant (whether because of a bitter taste or irritating sensations), coming to like them is a measure of growing up for many people. One Thai cooking instructor I know told the story of visiting her niece and being greeted with the young girl's excited announcement that she now liked chiles. She was proud of the fact that she was becoming more adult in her tastes.

<P>Here's a look at some of the most common irritants we learn to enjoy.


<P>Various peppers have been embraced by virtually every cuisine in the world, from the fiery chiles used in Thai or Indian cuisine, to the myriad fresh, dried and smoked peppers used in Mexican and South American cuisines, to the paprika that defines so many Hungarian dishes. Capcaisin is the alkaloid compound responsible for their burn, whether mild or searing.

<P>Capsaicin is probably the most studied of the substances in food that cause chemosensory irritations. Researchers have isolated five "capsaicinoid" compounds, three of which cause "rapid bite sensations" in the back of the palate and the throat, and two of which cause a longer, lower-intensity burn on the tongue and mid-palate. Variations in the proportions and amounts of these compounds account for the different sensations we get from different chiles.

<P>If you eat peppers much, you'll pretty begin to develop a tolerance for them. As we saw in Part One with strong flavors and odors, our threshold for various foods are not static; this is particularly true for capsaicin. Like any other type of pain we experience regularly, we grow accustomed to the burn of chiles, and it takes more and hotter varieties of them to excite the same sensations. That's a big reason that two people can have such a different perception of how hot a particular chile-infused dish is -- what's mild for a chile-head can be brutal for a novice. (Lest you heat freaks start to get cocky about your tolerance, though, just remember that if you stop eating them for a while, your tolerance will decrease and you'll be back where you started.)

<P>Mustard, horseradish and wasabi

<P>Mustard gets its heat from the reaction of the enzyme myrosin with glucosides in mustard seeds, which produces a very volatile oil, called (not surprisingly) mustard oil. Actually, there are several so-called mustard oils, but we can ignore that for now. The reaction only occurs when the mustard seeds are crushed and mixed with liquid, which is why you can take a big whiff of whole mustard seeds and feel nothing. Once they're crushed and moistened, though, only a tiny bit will cause watering eyes and irritate the nasal passages, as anyone who's inadvertently taken a big bite of Chinese mustard can attest. Mustard has been used in medicine as well as cooking for a couple thousand years, both in tinctures and applied externally to reduce inflammation. (Mustard oils, like capsaicin and other "counterirritants," work in this way by drawing blood to the surface of the skin and away from the deeper, inflamed areas.)

<P>Horseradish and wasabi are similar to mustard in both cause and effects. When grated, they form mustard oils as well. Much of the power of the mustard oils dissipates with heating, which is why dishes cooked with horseradish can be relatively mild, with only a hint of raw horseradish's bite.

<P>Although mustard, horseradish and wasabi can be staggeringly powerful, their "heat" is entirely different from that of chiles. Fist of all, we feel their effect primarily in the nasal passages rather than in the mouth. Second, although they can clear out your nasal passages faster than any decongestant, their effects are comparatively brief. As soon as your eyes stop watering from too much horseradish, you're ready for more.

<P>Other irritants

<P>The active oil in peppermint (and, to a lesser degree, in spearmint), menthol, is uniquely refreshing. At low concentrations, it temporarily raises the surface temperature of our skin, making our mouths feel cool and cool liquids feel downright cold. (If you're going to have your temperature taken, don't suck on peppermint candies -- your temperature will be artificially raised, as I discovered one time when I was giving blood.) In higher concentrations, it can be used as an anesthetic, or as a counterirritant like mustard oil.

<P>The active ingredient in clove oil, eugenol, has fast acting and powerful anesthetic qualities. In addition to their culinary uses, cloves have been used for thousands of years to freshen the breath and numb the mouth. Clove oil is still widely used for toothache.


<P>The tingly feeling we get when drinking carbonated drinks is also caused by a chemical reaction. One of our many enzymes, carbonic anhydrase, which creates acid from carbon dioxide and water, has been shown to play a big role in our sensing this "tingle." (Some medications given to glaucoma patients inhibit this enzyme; they can significantly alter the patients' experience of carbonation.)

<P>But unlike the other irritants I've been discussing, carbonation also has a physical side -- all those bubbles physically alter the feel of the carbonated drinks. They keep the liquid from lying on the tongue for long; they pop and make the liquid "fizzy." Flat soft drinks taste sweeter and feel thicker without the "scrubbing bubble" effect of carbonation. Cheap sparkling wine (not that any of you would drink it) might be bearable when freshly opened, but all those off-flavors become painfully obvious after the carbonation dissipates, when all the wine can do is lie on your tongue and linger.

<P>Carbonation has an additional benefit: it can serve to cut through the heavy texture of rich and fatty foods. Since we're just about to turn to the subject of "mouthfeel," we'll be seeing carbonation again soon.

<P><A NAME="mouth"><B>MOUTHFEEL</B></A>

<P>Chances are, if you're familiar with the term "mouthfeel," you associate it with descriptions of wine. Wine geeks always seem to go on about mouthfeel, which can seem extremely silly to wine novices. What is mouthfeel, you might ask, and why should you care about it?

<P>Good questions. One way to think about mouthfeel is this: take away all the other textural elements I've discussed, and what's left is mouthfeel. Okay, that's not terribly helpful, is it? Mouthfeel, then, involves the way foods coat or don't coat the mouth, whether they seem to linger or disappear immediately, whether they increase your saliva flow (lemon juice) or dry it up (tannins), whether they're smooth and silky or rough and "sharp" against the tongue. With liquids (beverages and sauces, primarily), mouthfeel includes the "body" or viscosity (how thick or thin the liquid is).

<P>Now let's see why we should care about mouthfeel. In the case of wine, beer, and other beverages, it's easy to see why mouthfeel plays such a big role in our descriptions. Without anything to crunch into or chew on, mouthfeel is very apparent. With food, some elements of it are more obvious than others. For instance, we tend to immediately tune into how smooth certain foods are or are not -- we notice right away if our hollandaise is lumpy or our ice cream is grainy.

<P>Overall, though, compared with all the chewing and crunching we do, with the various irritations we sense, and the density and moisture level of our foods, mouthfeel is pretty subtle. It can get lost among the other textural elements.

<P>But it's there in the background, and it very likely makes a difference in the way you perceive your food, even if you don't realize it. Most of this "subtext" mouthfeel involves how lasting, how rich, and how cloying our food is, which depends in large part on the fat level of the foods we're eating. Fats and oils, of course, influence the moisture content of our foods, but they also do a couple other things. They can lend viscosity to sauces and help make them smooth and "creamy." They cause food to linger on the tongue and in the mouth, providing a longer "finish" than foods without as much fat. They soften the feel of highly acidic or astringent foods, making them less "rough."

<P>Maybe you've seen the ice cream commercial where the little kids are trying to read the ingredients listed on the labels. They stumble over all the multi-syllabic chemicals, and then turn to the advertised brand, which contains only "natural" ingredients.

<P>If, like I did, you run a Google search for "food," texture," and "mouthfeel," most of the results will be either wine descriptions or scientific treatises on the various chemicals used to create and maintain a smooth and rich mouthfeel. I'm not about to get into the argument about whether such additives are good or bad. The only point I want to make here is that many, probably most, of them are not added for flavor. They're there for texture.

<P>Like it or not, it's difficult to produce an ice cream that stays smooth, rich feeling and creamy for days, much less for weeks. And if it's difficult with a full-fat ice cream, it's virtually impossible with a non-fat version. That's the problem with low-fat versions of foods that are ordinarily fatty -- they may not taste that different from the regular versions, but they just don't feel the same. Since the low-fat craze hit, food manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on ways to make non- and low-fat foods feel like their full-fat cousins.

<P>Because, despite all our concern with "healthy" foods, the fact remains that we like the feel of fats and oils in our foods. If we don't get that feeling from at least some of our food, we notice the lack, and our gustatory experience is less satisfactory because of it.

<P>Fat, acid, and astringency

<P>But too much of a good thing, in this case, is not so great. Too much rich food can coat the mouth and tongue too thoroughly, feeling unpleasantly heavy and cloying. Most cooks understand this at some level, even if they can't articulate it or don't even consciously think about it. We use a variety of techniques to cut through the heavy mouthfeel of foods high in fats and oils. Whipping cream, for instance, introduces thousands of tiny air bubbles into the cream, which physically lift it from the tongue, giving it a lighter, less cloying feel than plain cream.

<P>Mostly, though, we rely on two very different categories of ingredients to counter the heaviness. First, a touch of astringency serves to cut through high-fat dishes. Certain foods and their components are naturally astringent, meaning that they dry out the mouth. This seems like something unpleasant, and too much of it often is. But a little astringency can work to (figuratively) scrape out the mouth, refreshing the palate by giving it a stopping point, so to speak. Sometimes the astringent ingredient is in the dish itself -- a bed of arugula, for instance, working as a foil to a richly sauced beef. More often, it's in the beverages we choose to drink with rich foods -- think about the hops of beer and tannins of red wine cutting through the fat in such dishes as fish and chips or roast lamb. Or a cup of tea with rich pastries.

<P>The other major technique for balancing the rich mouthfeel of high-fat foods is to add some acid. We saw in Part One that acid balances sweetness; just as it cuts through the cloying taste intensely sweet foods, it also acts to cut through the cloying feel of fatty and oily foods. Think of salad dressings without vinegar, a beurre blanc without the wine reduction, or Hollandaise without the lemon juice. They'd be too much on the palate without the touch of acid. Introducing a tart sorbet between rich courses in a many-coursed meal was a common technique that's making a comeback. And, of course, we can also get our acid in our beverages, just like we do our astringency. Most white wines get their palate cleansing qualities from their acid, not from tannins.

<P>It generally takes very little of an astringent or acidic ingredient to counteract the fat in many dishes. Too much acid or astringency is just as unpleasant as too much fat. It's all about balance. Let's look at a simple salad of greens dressed with a vinaigrette. In most American restaurants and many homes, plain lettuces have given way in salads to mixtures of greens, many of which are mildly astringent and bitter. At the same time, Americans seem to have tended toward more and more acidic vinaigrettes, compared with their European counterparts. It's easy, given these two trends, to go overboard and end up with a salad that's unbalanced. In most cases, all it takes to bring it back into balance is a bit more oil in the dressing, or a bit of cheese. The additional richness makes the acid dressing and astringent greens behave themselves.

<P>Umami and mouthfeel

<P>We saw in Part One that the umami, or savory, taste is, most certainly, a real taste. But as I mentioned then, umami has a textural element that's even more important (I think) than its taste. Foods that are high in glutamates have a richness and a depth that's lacking in foods without them. Remember the researcher who described umami as that "mouth-filling" sensation? That pretty much sums it up.

<P>Ingredients that are naturally high in glutamates contribute a quality of richness to the dishes where they appear. For instance, it's very surprising to many people, on eating their first Thai salad, to find that the dressing generally contains no oil -- the fish sauce provides the unctuous feeling they associate with oil. If you leave out the fish sauce, the salad will not only taste less complex, but it will also feel less satisfying.

<P>Food manufacturers that add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to their products do it as much for mouthfeel as they do for flavor. If you tried the exercise at the end of Part One involving MSG, you probably noticed that the water with MSG not only tasted vaguely brothy, but it also felt fuller on the tongue than plain water. I unabashedly admit to adding a pinch of MSG to many dishes, especially soups with meat and poultry. I don't do it for the flavor, I do it for the mouthfeel.

<P>You don't have to follow my lead, though. There are plenty of ingredients, like fish sauce, with natural glutamates. Experiment with mushrooms, aged cheeses, cured meats, Worcestershire sauce, or grapefruit to alter the mouthfeel of the dishes you cook or eat.


<P>So, now that we've separated texture from taste and we understand it a little better, let's turn around and put them back together (come on, you knew I would do this, didn't you?) They don't, after all, exist independent from each other; they're part of a package.

<P>Texture can affect flavor in a couple of important ways, so let's start with that. First, the texture of the food we eat helps to determine how much of the surface area can interact with our taste cells. Think about the difference in flavor intensity between carrot chunks, grated carrot and carrot juice. Put a big chunk of carrot in your mouth, and you don't taste much until you crunch down on it and break it into smaller pieces. Taste a spoonful of grated carrot, and the flavor is much more apparent. Sip on a glass of carrot juice, and you get a blast of carrot flavor immediately.

<P>The length of time food spends in the mouth also obviously will affect how strong its flavor seems. We've seen that viscous liquids and rich foods coat the mouth; their tastants thus spend more time with the taste cells than thinner liquids and leaner foods, so they often seem more flavorful. Dense foods, likewise, come into contact with more taste cells than do aerated, lighter foods. Chewy foods take longer to break down enough to swallow than do softer foods, so we get more flavor from them.

<P>Does this mean that we want to limit ourselves to those textures that promote the greatest flavor? No, not at all. If you've learned only thing from this class, I hope it's that variety makes the our culinary world go round -- contrasting and balancing textures is just as important to our gustatory pleasure as combining and balancing tastes and flavors. We're human; it's in our nature to embrace variety.

<P><A NAME="next"><B>THE NEXT STEP</B></A>

<P>Building on all the practice you've had analyzing the flavor of your foods, now you can begin to combine that with an awareness of their textures. Concentrate on all the crispy, crunchy, soft, silky creamy, puckery, chewy, moist, hot, succulent, and tingly aspects of your foods, and I promise you'll get more out of your cooking and dining.

<P><A NAME="exper"><B>EXPERIMENTS</B></A>

<P>Noticing Texture

<P>Pick out two or three restaurant reviews from your local paper. Go through them and underline all the words that describe or refer to flavor (salty, smoky, sour, flavorful, etc.). Then, go through them a second time, and circle all the words that describe texture. Some words may fall into both categories ("buttery," for example, often refers to the flavor of butter, but sometimes describes a texture. Likewise for "meaty"). Compare the number of underlined to circled words.

<P>Texture and Flavor

<P>This takes a few carrots. Puree one carrot into juice (or buy some carrot juice). Shred one, mince one, dice one, and cut one into large chunks. Taste the various forms of carrot. How does the texture affect the flavor?

<P>Fat and Mouthfeel

<P>Run out and buy small cartons of milk with differing fat contents -- non-fat, 1%, 2%, regular, and ideally, extra rich (4%). Also get a carton each of half and half, light cream, and heavy cream (if you're not in the U.S., you may have different options, but the point is to buy as wide a variety as you can.)

<P>Starting with the non-fat (or lowest fat) variety, take a sip of the milk, concentrating on how it coats your mouth -- how thick it feels, how long it lingers. Proceed through the rest of the samples, moving from least fat to most fat (you may want to pause every two or three for a drink of water or a bit of a mild cracker). How does the fat content influence the mouthfeel? Which one feels the most pleasant? The least pleasant?

<P>Umami and Mouthfeel

<P>Repeat the umami experiment from Part One: dissolve a half-teaspoon or so of Ac'cent in a cupful of warm water. Taste the mixture. This time, compare it with a sip of plain water the same temperature and concentrate on the differences in the way it feels in the mouth. Does the MSG made the water feel richer? Does it feel as if it's coating your mouth?

<P>Balancing Fat and Acid

<P>You'll need oil and vinegar or lemon juice for this, plus a few leaves of lettuce. First, pour a little oil into a bowl, and a little vinegar or lemon juice into another. Mix vinaigrettes in the following proportions: one oil to two vinegar, one oil to one vinegar and two vinegar to one oil. Beginning with the plain oil and ending with the plain vinegar, dip a small piece on lettuce into each and taste it. Note how the mouthfeel changes as the acid increases. Which mixture works the best for you?

<P>If you like, repeat the experiment using an astringent green such as arugula. Does your preference change?

<P>Ask your questions about this course here.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Create New...