A mouthfeel of food determines whether people return for seconds, according to a new study. Texture has been one of the trends in food product messaging for several years, says Rhonda Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife research faculty fellow and meat science professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Science in Bryan-College Station. The study was published in Meat Science journal.
Miller is applying her mouthfeel research to products in the beef industry to determine how to improve consumption. She conducted a three-phase mouth behaviour study involving how four types of eaters consume beef and steak.
People manipulate food in their mouths differently; some use their molars and chew; others manipulate the food with their tongues. Chewers and crunchers like to use their teeth to break down foods. Suckers and smooshers manipulate food between their tongue and the roof of their mouth.
But these texture terms are not universally understood, a 'good crunch' to a cruncher is much different to a chewer.
"Most people don't even realise they are manipulating their food in their mouth," Miller says. But Miller does, as she operates the Sensory Science Evaluation Laboratory, researching various meat and food products and evaluating them for flavour and palatability.
Mouthfeel and food preferences
Miller says little is known about what drives people's preferences, but everyone is born with a preference for texture. Texture is a strong driver of rejection of a food item. Researchers are interested in whether texture affects purchasing habits regarding food products.
"People generally have a very low texture awareness," she says. "They talk about flavour, but not texture, because we have a low awareness of verbalising that."
Miller breaks down the mouthfeels a little more: chewers and crunchers have the same mouth motions, but chewers are less vigorous and eat food more slowly, while crunchers eat food forcefully. Others often accuse crunchers of being too loud. They crunch until the food is gone. Smooshers use their tongue and the roof of their mouth; suckers appropriately suck the flavour out before chewing.
She says the US population consists of about 8 per cent suckers, 43 per cent chewers, 33 per cent crunchers, and 16 per cent smooshers. The study also showed that suckers reject products at a 45 per cent level, while smooshers reject at 29 per cent, crunchers at 16 per cent, and chewers at 10 per cent.
Her study revealed that products are often made without considering consumers' sensory behaviours. "But we know there are some, for instance, granola bars. Do you want them crunchy or chewy? You can look at the package merchandising and see they know there is a difference in what their consumer wants," she says.
"So as meat scientists, our concern is, especially when beef prices are high, retailers want to know how they can get consumers to buy beef one more time a month," Miller says.
Miller found interesting differences in the way chewers, crunchers, smoothers, and suckers experience hamburgers and steaks based on the way the meat was processed before cooking.
Ground beef burger patties were rated on descriptive textures such as surface roughness, firmness, connective tissue amount, cohesive mass, particle size and chewiness. Consumers identified factors that influenced their evaluation.
Chewers must have flavorful burgers, no soggy buns, no rubbery feel or gristle, and the patty can't be dry or too greasy.
Crunchers want a burger that is not too dry or raw, not chewy, crumbly, or chunky, no soggy bun and the meat can't stick to their teeth.
Smooshers want a juicy, well-seasoned patty no gristle, not congealed or sludgy, and no residue feel in their mouth.
Suckers defined their ideal burger as juicy, not too chewy, but not crumbly, and the seasoning should come before cooking.
This study aimed to determine how fat content affected consumers' perceptions. Chewers and smooshers found higher-fat patties less tough and chewy, with crunchers saying 93 per cent of lean beef was too dry. Higher fat was associated with higher tenderness. For the suckers, it wasn't about fat content but rather whether the meat was chopped or ground.
In the verdict on chopped beef patties, chewers said lean chopped patties were tougher, crunchers said they were less juicy, smooshers said they were greasy, and suckers said they were dry. The outcome was that ground beef patties from the chuck are less polarising across the mouth behaviour groups than those from other lean sources.
"We learned a lot, and I walked away with an 'aha' moment," Miller says. "The ideal patty is easy to bite and stays together well. Also, we learned that chewers do not like McDonalds."
Regarding steaks, the higher-marbled steaks were liked by consumers across each mouth behaviour group, but for different reasons. The ageing process produces big gaps among mouth behaviours.
"We've been a little stale in how we as meat scientists think," Miller says. "This study has helped me think outside the box, but I don't have any definitive answers yet."