How Potato Chips can explain Mouthfeel

The last few articles were focused on aromas and how to detect them.  I hope that you enjoyed the exercise in the last article about how I determine a wine’s aromas.  The next topic to focus on is Mouthfeel.  Mouthfeel (aka texture) is an important component in both food and beverages.  There are millions of dollars spent each year attempting to produce items that we would enjoy based on mouthfeel alone.  We always think about mouthfeel when we refer to food but never beverages.  Imagine every menu you have ever seen in a restaurant.  They suggest items like:

  • Tender steaks,
  • Crispy fried chicken,
  • Crunchy battered shrimp,
  • Soft serve Ice cream.

Potato Chips and Mouthfeel

Let’s use the example of potato chips.  I’ve always said that there are three categories of chips:

  1. Exceptionally crunchy ones like kettle chips that when you happen to angle them a certain way, they remove all of the skin off the roof of your mouth since they are so hard,
  2. Regular potato chips that pop in your fingers (when you break one) and crunch when you bite into one, and
  3. Stale chips that are flabby.

We all know what a stale chip is.  I don’t even have to describe it but I will.  Think about opening a bag of chips and taking one out and biting into it to find out its stale.  We would instantly know it’s stale not from the flavor first but the texture.  There would be no loud crunch but a soft little crack if any.  At this point, if you are like me, you are majorly disappointed and want to toss the bag away.  I was robbed of my crunch is what my brain says.  However, my brain also says that they are stale so they may not be good to eat anymore!!  Texture is a part of us determining if something is good to consume.  Think of the texture of drinking curdled milk (EWWWW).

Let’s look at mouthfeel a different way such as my cold pressed juicing.  I judge myself every time I juice to see how much pulp I get into the glass.  I’m looking for a textural balance of just enough pulp in the juice so when I drink it, I don’t feel like I’m using my teeth to strain it.  The opposite is that if I strain the juice completely, I feel like I’m missing something.  The flavor has not changed but how we perceive it based on the texture does.  Think about it this way.  If texture in orange juice was not an issue, why would the juice companies offer low pulp and high pulp juice options?

Mouthfeel is Texture

Mouthfeel is very easy to confuse with other areas.  The easiest way that I can explain it is this:

  • Think of mouthfeel as related specifically and only to texture on your palate.

Let’s go back to the potato chip example earlier.  From when we take the first bite until we chew and swallow, we are receiving aromas and flavors from the chips.  However, we are also changing the texture (aka mouthfeel) of the chips as we chew.  We want to have that initial crunch on the first bite.  As we chew, the chips get smaller so we can swallow them.  However, we are still interacting with texture as the pieces change size.

Mouthfeel and Beverages

Let’s look at how mouthfeel is related to beverages.  For our discussion, I’m going to relate comparing wine to water.  When I look at wine related to mouthfeel, I’m doing a comparison of the feel of the wine on my palate related to texture.  For example, I love Spanish Grand Reserva Riojas because of their flavor and mouthfeel. They have been aged so long that when I drink them, the mouthfeel is very soft like rainwater.  And that’s exactly the terminology that I use is that It feels like rainwater due to the lack of tannins from ageing.  I think you can kind of visualize this.

We can look at other options using wine.  For example, an unfiltered wine will have a chalky mouthfeel.  It has fine particles suspended in the wine.  When you drink it, you will feel that texture.  In an earlier article, I discussed how we can use memories for aromas.  Well, this applies to other areas like mouthfeel.  Since I’m old, as a kid I remember cleaning the chalk erasers at school.  You would smash them together to get rid of the chalk while trying to create the biggest dust cloud.  While doing this and breathing with your mouth open for some strange reason (when you beat erasers, you have to have your mouth open), you will inhale some of this chalk in your mouth.  And guess what, its chalky as you try to spit it out.  Kids today are missing out with whiteboards. ☹

Mouthfeel Wheel

There is a great tool called the mouthfeel wheel that is available to look up on the web or purchase.  I’ve referenced a copy here for you to look at.

This is an amazing tool that helps us describe wine.  I love sharing this with you but please do not use this as some people do.  I’ve watched students use the wheel to describe a wine in all of these fancy terms like the wine has a Supple Fleshy Mouthcoat.  REALLY???  That just sounds wrong even if its correct.

Wine evaluation is supposed to be personal, and I always want someone to describe it in their own words without looking for the big sexy terms.  If you look at the wheel, it talks about great descriptors such as chalk, dusty, etc.  Just keep it simple when you are attempting to describe something so everyone understands and can relate.

For example, a wine that has some additional fermentation in a bottle will produce carbon dioxide and give the wine some spritz feeling on the tongue.  A dessert wine that has lots of sugar may feel syrupy on the palate like maple syrup.  A wine that has a high amount of alcohol may feel warm in your mouth.  For the opposite, a low alcohol wine could feel thin and watery.  All of these examples do not refer to the wine being bad; it just refers to how it feels on the palate.  Again:

  • Think of mouthfeel as related specifically and only to texture on your palate.

Final Thoughts

I know that mouthfeel may be a new concept to you related to beverages.  But it really does make sense to help to describe any beverage.  We have all had iced tea where you get to the bottom of the glass and some of the sugar had not dissolved so its gritty.  Think of a heavily carbonated soda and the bubbles dancing on your tongue.  Or an Ice Cream float where the ice cream has melted and mixed with the soda so it feels really creamy.

Start to think about mouthfeel when you drink different beverages.  As I keep writing more about how to analyze wines, I will bring mouth feel more into discussion.  Understanding this will help with my system for pairing beverages with foods.  We will get there but until then, enjoy a glass and think about what it feels like. 😊

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