Eating is more than just for sustenance and beyond simply performing a perfunctory action. When eating, all five of our senses are engaged—sight, smell, taste, touch, and even hearing, like the sound it makes in our ears when we crunch on a potato crisp, or the smooshing sound that chewing bread produces. When all five senses are stimulated, it can form a total experience of enjoyment that leaves a positive and lasting impression.
It is also a common scenario that after we have had a particularly long or bad day, we crave comfort foods that are creamy and smooth like ice-cream, whereas when we are angry, we tend to reach for something crunchy like potato crisps.
For a very long time, consumers and research and development professionals from all over the world paid much attention to flavour and taste, but are now discovering that texture is just as important, and central to the overall eating experience.
Texture As Differentiator
Food has evolved to become more than just being one dimensional. Take for example, cookies. They now come in a whole range of varieties, ranging from hard and crunchy, to soft and chewy, and recently, even having multiple textures in one product.
Besides food, texture can be used as a differentiator in beverages as well. Now, when consumers purchase orange juice in a supermarket, they are able to choose among cartons labelled ‘no pulp’, ‘less pulp’, ‘more pulp’ and ‘extra pulp’, based on their personal preferences.
Rather than being secondary to taste, texture can be a key attribute that can be emphasised to help differentiate a product, enabling it to stand out from a sea of many others.
In 2012, 27 percent of the best-selling new foods and beverages carried a texture claim, such as ‘cool ‘n creamy’, ‘extra crispy’, ‘crunchy’, and ‘deliciously soft’.
From this, we can see that consumer interest and preference is driven by enjoyment and acceptance, which is often determined by texture. Consumers often make initial food choices based on what is visually appealing. However, if they can be won over by its taste and texture, they are highly likely to buy it again, as opposed to it being a one-off purchase decision.
Creating Novel Textures
Traditionally, ice-creams are soft and creamy. But what if they have a richer texture and resist melt, come with a hard, crunchy outer coating, or contain chewy fruit or dough pieces to add textural interest?
In order to attract and retain consumer interest, food manufacturers have to bank on the element of surprise with new and unexpected textures. With innovation, limitless possibilities and combinations abound, and opportunities for adventure in the eating experience can be created.
Through extensive research, experts understand the characteristics that make up appealing textures. Because they are able to translate specific textural descriptors into consumer-preferred textures, they can offer this knowledge to assist food manufacturers in taking the first step towards creating and delivering consumer-winning products.
An ingredient company’s sensory expertise allows manufacturers to measure texture with human senses, made possible with expert sensory panels who are trained in discriminative and descriptive analysis.
For example, by using an ingredient company’s proprietary language, product developers are able to characterise the terms commonly used by consumers to describe texture. These can then be translated into their fundamental technical attributes, such as mouthcoating, dissolvability and meltaway, from which formulations can be created.
In addition, technical experts can also measure textures with specialised equipment such as texture analysers and rheometers to help manufacturers achieve differentiated textures and eating experiences to appeal to consumers.
Besides developing an appetite for food with more exciting textures, consumers are also becoming increasingly health-conscious, often opting for reduced-fat or fat-free products over full-fat ones.
The problem is that when fat is removed, especially from dairy products, texture and subsequently mouthfeel suffers. In order to successfully reduce fat from a product, the textural and sensorial attributes of full-fat alternatives have to be built back.
This can be achieved with mouthfeel enhancing texturisers, which will help manufacturers to reformulate recipes to maintain the same full-bodied, mouth-coating slick feel of milk fat that will enhance the consumer’s eating experience.
It is the same with creating reduced sugar or sugar-free products. In many cases, high-intensity sweeteners can be substituted for sugar, but are still not able to replace the solids that are usually dissolved in beverages, bakery fillings or yoghurts.
As a result, the product will seem thin and lack body, which translates to a quicker clearing of the palate, with little flavour remaining in the mouth and tongue during and after swallowing.
Besides ensuring a healthier product remains tasty, building back texture with the right texturisers is also critical to product developers who want to reduce the cost of products without sacrificing quality, either to remain competitive in the market or increase profit margin.
Formulation For Success
Recently, a ready-meal manufacturer wanted to improve the appeal and performance of their Alfredo pasta sauce while maintaining its texture. First, the manufacturer’s goals and needs were identified:
- To reduce cream, whole milk and butter for cost, nutrition and labelling reasons
- To build back texture and opacity
- To enhance cling to pasta
- To deliver freeze/thaw stability
From relevant consumer insights, the desired eating experience was translated into precise, objective and quantitative sensory language which was then used to characterise current products and benchmarks.
The texture target identified was to maintain the texture of the current product while enhancing cling. Care was taken to understand the manufacturer’s production process, such as the equipment, time, temperature, and shear profile, in order to make the best recommendation to achieve the desired texture in the finished product.
Finally, texture and flavour impact were optimised in a new formulation, which gave a 47 percent reduction in butter and cream, 40 percent reduction in fat, 29 percent reduction in calories and a better freeze/thaw stability.
Achieving Perfect Texture
Most consumers do not consciously take notice of the texture or mouthfeel of what they are eating unless it is inferior, where it can heavily impact their experience and perceptions of a product or brand.
This is why food texture optimisation is a key area of focus in modern food formulation and development. With the right ingredients and technology, product developers can build back texture and re-create the experience of full-fat or sweetened products, with fewer calories.
Equally, they can differentiate their product with a unique or interesting texture that makes it stand out, attract consumers and encourage repeat purchase.
From converting consumer language to sensory and rheological language, and finally the formulation of a texture solution, an ingredient company’s comprehensive approach to texture optimisation and enhancement can help customers achieve the product texture they want in a fraction of the time that it traditionally takes.