Texture Keeps It Interesting

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Delicious food is about flavors—and texture. Learn how to add and manipulate textures to make every mouthful a pleasure of taste and crunch.

Bowl of textured green soup; coffee with ice cream float
©iStockphoto.com/mpessaris

There’s more to creating craveable food and beverage items than manipulating flavor and appearance. In fact, for many chefs, the secret ingredient in a signature menu offering is texture.

Texture adds interest and prevents palate fatigue, bite after bite. A well-constructed salad, for example, is all about the interplay of textures as well as flavors, shapes, and colors: the tender crispness of lettuce, the crunch of radishes or nuts, the softness of cheese, and the velvety smoothness of ripe avocado. Watching someone eat a salad by spearing a forkful of different ingredients helps to prove that.

Go for Crispy

Some of today’s most popular menu items celebrate crispness, and even herald it by name, like the almost-ubiquitous Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich that has become a mainstay.

Battering or breading and deep-frying just about any food is a surefire way to create a crispy surface, but other crunch-inducing techniques include heavy pan-searing and encrusting foods in textural elements like sesame seeds or herbed breadcrumbs.

Naturally crispy ingredients can also add a satisfying hit of crunch to foods: vegetables like chopped celery or raw carrots, pickles, and coleslaw; nuts of all kinds; wonton noodles; and puffed grains.

Soft and Rich Is Good, Too

Is there anything more indulgent than chocolate mousse or rice pudding? It’s not just sweetness, it’s the luxurious, mouth-filling texture.

Soft, rich texture also works well in savory dishes and in combination with crispy, crunchy elements: fried pita or tortilla chips with silky hummus or queso; popcorn shrimp with creamy tartar or remoulade sauce; ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies.

Beverages are an ideal place to play with rich, smooth texture. Shakes, smoothies, frappes, lattes, and other blended beverages get a lot of their appeal from their creamy, soft texture, which also helps these specialties do double duty as snacks and desserts.

Bicerin is a trendy Italian coffee specialty that consists of a layer of soothing hot cocoa in the bottom of a glass, topped with a frothy float of espresso, and then a cool cap of whipped cream.

Fun with Texture

Texture can be surprising, a delight for the senses that goes beyond flavor and aroma. Cherry tomatoes have that three-textured experience of juicy flesh and jelly-like seeds inside a firm, encompassing skin. Pickled mustard seeds add a quick mouth-pop and a burst of spicy heat to vinaigrettes or potato salad.

Tapioca pearls add satisfying chewiness to sips of refreshing juice or iced tea for a premium boba or bubble tea, with its festive appearance and the interactive fun of finding the bubbles with a straw.

And the molecular technique of spherification (enclosing liquids in agar-agar), is all about creating the element of textural surprise, making “caviar” that provides a liquid explosion inside a delicate shell of gelatin.

More Texture Tips

  • Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs over pasta, vegetables, and other soft foods for a crisp finish
  • Whip thick beverages such as hot cocoa for an airy, luxurious texture
  • Fresh salsas, chutneys, and relishes add a bit of textural as well as flavor balance to protein items like grilled chicken or fish
  • Slippery foods can also be interesting; vegetables like sautéed mushrooms and many Asian noodle dishes celebrate this unusual texture
  • When preparing ice-blended beverages, undermix slightly to leave some ice crystals intact
  • Put potato or corn chips inside a sandwich for a mouthful of crispy
  • Float whipped or heavy cream on top of hot or cold beverages for a more luxurious mouthfeel
  • Plate soft foods like smoked salmon on crispy potato pancakes
  • Seeds of all kinds (flax, pumpkin, sesame) not only add texture, but they have positive nutritional benefits and a great image with customers
  • Rimming a glass with sugar or salt not only adds flavor, it also imparts a pleasant graininess to sip a beverage through
  • Add textural contrast to cream soups with bread or polenta croutons, wasabi peas or popcorn, crisp cubes of bacon, or fried onion straws

The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.