The Science of Snacking: Why Does Food Texture Matter?
Whether it’s crunchy, chewy, soft or spongy - sometimes we crave a food based on its texture. And when the expectations don’t meet the actual outcome of a snack, we are usually disappointed. A number of different factors play a role in our food texture preferences, and those preferences stem from more than just taste.
There’s a science behind the food textures we prefer and GlobeMail refers to it as the science of spit. Essentially, each person’s saliva contains varying amounts of water and proteins that serve as lubricants, and overall lubrication levels and consistency result in different texture preferences.
Saliva makeup is often genetic, and most people are satisfied when they find a “mouth feel” that is just right. Those with high levels of the digestive enzyme amylase, for instance, have an easier time breaking down starch. Therefore they are more prone to enjoy a creamier, melt-in-your-mouth sensation from pudding than those with low levels of amylase.
Crunchy vs. Soft
The texture of food is not only essential for finding that perfect mouth feel, but it also plays a role in our caloric perception and overall consumption of foods. Crunchy foods are typically perceived as healthier and fresher than softer foods. It’s even been determined that brain scans show more functional activity when the participant is introduced to crunchy foods versus soft foods.
Soft, smooth foods, on the other hand, are perceived as high in calories – and yet are often eaten in much larger quantities than their crunchy counterparts. Soft and smooth foods are also the target of many food aversions. Some of these food aversions are relatively manageable and others that can lead to ARFID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. ARFID occurs when food avoidance is so severe it becomes a problem and restricts the body’s dietary needs.
Food texture preferences can also be influenced by what we eat as children, or even by what our mothers ate during pregnancy. The types of milk and food we were fed early on can affect our food texture preferences later in life, particularly if we were consistently shielded from certain foods.
If a baby was never fed cake due to an egg allergy, for instance, the child may never come to enjoy the texture of cakes and muffins - even after the egg allergy dissipates. The ideal way to avoid such aversions and help establish healthy eating habits in adulthood is to give children a variety of food textures from the get-go.
Improvements in oral health also contribute to our food texture preferences, with modern dentistry allowing us to choose a variety of textures throughout adulthood and our senior years. Maintaining our chewing abilities may also help stave off dementia, and Baylor College of Medicine researchers suggest that the more we chew at any age, the smarter we become.
Even if we don’t consciously think about the texture of food when we reach for a snack, we instantly know a texture is wrong if we’re expecting one food texture and end up with another. So the next time you’re craving something crunchy, now you’ll know that it’s more than just a hankering – it’s science!