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Food Texture Influences Perceived Calorie Content

<p>According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people perceive foods that are either hard or have a rough texture to have fewer calories.</p>

TAMPA, Fla.—Texture and mouthfeel are the primary factors that contribute a person’s like or dislike of a particular food or beverage, but can it also affect how much a person consumes? The answer is yes. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people perceive foods that are either hard or have a rough texture to have fewer calories.

Researchers from the University of South Florida, University of Michigan and Columbia University studied the link between how a food feels in your mouth and the amount we eat, the types of food we choose, and how many calories we think we are consuming. In five laboratory studies, the researchers asked participants to sample foods that were hard, soft, rough, or smooth and then measured calorie estimations for the food. In one study, participants were asked to watch and evaluate a series of television ads.

While watching the ads, cups filled with bite-sized brownie bits were provided to the participants as tokens of appreciation for their time. Half of the participants were not asked anything about the brownies and the other half were asked a question about the calorie content of the brownies. Within each of these two groups, half of the participants received brownie bits that were soft and the other half received brownie bits that were hard.

When the participants were not made to focus on the calorie content, they consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were soft versus hard. In contrast, when made to focus on the calorie content, the participants consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were hard versus soft.

FPD’s Take:

The texture of a food product is a collection of sensory attributes—how a person perceives a food product through visual, auditory and physical senses. It contributes to the overall eating experience and can impact flavor release of a food product.

These are reasons why texture is one of the most complicated attributes for formulators to understand and why, historically, they have shied away from addressing texture in the early stages of product development. But understanding and addressing texture up front saves time later in the development process, when a formulator must go back and fix the crunch, improve the adhesion or modify the spread. While texture is one of the most basic attributes of food sensory experiences, it has traditionally been an under-leveraged aspect of food product formulation In response, a number of suppliers of texturants, which include carbohydrate, fat and protein suppliers, as well as suppliers of mouthfeel flavors, have developed a systematic approach to identifying, describing and formulating desired textural effects in foods and drinks.

Taking all this into account, including the findings in the above-mentioned study, brands interested in promoting the health benefits of their products can emphasize texture, as well as draw attention to low-calorie foods. In fact, the study’s authors noted that understanding how the texture of food can influence calorie perceptions, food choice, and consumption amount can help nudge consumers toward making healthier choices.

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