Cafe Scientifique welcomes Prof Bryony James, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, Waikato University.
When we eat food we are aware of a range of “textures”, crispy, crunchy, creamy, smooth, chewy… Texture contributes just as much to our enjoyment of food as flavour, but is far less well-understood. Studying food texture is difficult, not least as food oral processing (all the movements of tongue, teeth and cheeks) happens, hopefully, out of sight, in a closed mouth.
Perception of texture is remarkable, and starts before we even put something in our mouths. Think of the satisfying “snap” of high quality chocolate, or the luxurious unctuousness of a spoonful of Greek yoghurt. Once something gets past our lips then all the mechanical sensors in our mouths start to tell us if a food is soft or hard, gritty or smooth. Our hearing plays a huge part too, what is “crunchy” without the noise?
To make this more challenging still, we are all highly reproducible chewing machines but we vary enormously one to another. One person might chew their toffee, and they will always chew a toffee; another person might suck the same toffee, and they will always be a sucker. As we age our behaviours change, as we lose some of the function of our chewing muscles, or we lose teeth, or our saliva starts to dry up. Different cultures have different preferences for food texture, which may come from expectation, habit, physiology or a combination. Different ethnicities have different appreciation of texture too, Americans have around 80 terms for food texture, Japanese have over 400.
Prof Bryony James will explain some of my recent and current research projects that aim to link food texture perception to the material properties of food (She is a Materials Engineer), and encourage a new appreciation of something we usually take for granted.
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