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How to measure and analyse the texture of food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and adhesives.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

The Vocabulary of Food Texture

The chef Mario Batali says that the single word “crispy” will sell a restaurant dish quicker than any number of clever adjectives. 

Picture “aubergines” on a menu. You might hesitate to order them, fearing they would be flaccid or oily, as they so often are. Now think how much more appealing “crispy aubergines” sound. “Crispy” makes everything appear as safe and crunchy as chips.

The word’s universal appeal is a sign of how much we are governed by texture in what we eat. Yet we hardly seem to mention it (unlike in China, where many foods, from fungus to tripe, are prized for texture alone).

When we praise a meal, we tend to talk about the flavours, as if it weren’t quite polite to mention the marvellous way it felt in the mouth: how the artichoke gave just enough resistence to your teeth or the rhubarb fool shimmied gently down your throat. 

When investigating the idea of textural vocabulary in different languages we came across a fascinating paper that was published in 1989 by Birger Drake entitled: “Sensory Textural/Rheological Properties – A Polyglot List”. At the first IUFoST Symposium on Food Texture and Rheology held in London in 1977, the question was raised whether a comparison of words in different languages could increase our understanding of textural properties and their interrelationships. 

The author initiated such a pioneering study in 1978 and, for several years, collected the material. He published a listing of 54 English terms for sensory textural/rheological properties of foods and their equivalents in 22 other languages. Translation into the other languages was done by 50 collaborators who had a good command of English and their own language and who were well versed in textural/rheological terms.

Not unexpectedly, different languages were found to have different ways of expressing similarities and dissimilarities among a group of concepts. An interesting fact is that, in some languages, a single word can be used for properties which, in many other languages are described by quite dissimilar terms. 

A notable example is “katai” in Japanese which can correspond to “rigid”, “stiff”, “hard”, “firm”, and “tough” in English. On the other hand, Japanese language has a wealth of words, including many synonyms, for concepts which in other languages are not considered different. It was concluded that the words appear to fall into six large groups described by the words: Viscous, Plastic, Elastic, Compressible, Cohesive and Adhesive.

The British Nutrition Foundation provides a chart showing common sensory vocabulary that is used across Odour, Taste, Appearance and Texture.

We need a larger vocabulary to do justice to all the ways texture affects food. How about “clidgy” (the texture of half melted cheese that clings to the teeth), “suent” (agreeably smooth), “grumous” (a semi-solid mass) and “lardaceous” (lardlike or fatty). I don’t imagine these will appear on menus any time soon, but there’s no limit to the creation of new vocabulary in today’s cosmopolitan world. 

Click here to view the range of textural properties that Stable Micro Systems tends to encounter most often... 

For more information on how to measure texture, please visit the Texture Analysis Properties section on our website.

TA.XTplus texture analyser with bloom jar The
TA.XTplus texture analyser is part of a family of texture analysis instruments and equipment from Stable Micro Systems. An extensive portfolio of specialist attachments is available to measure and analyse the textural properties of a huge range of food products. Our technical experts can also custom design instrument fixtures according to individual specifications.

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Watch our video about texture analysis Replicating Consumer Preferences Texture Analysis applications

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