Consumers perceive foods that are either hard or have a rough texture as having fewer calories, says a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“We 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,” wrote the researchers.
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. They sought to determine which foods were perceived as higher in calories, the effects of chewing on perceived calorie counts, whether focusing on chewing magnified perceived calorie counts and how calorie perception (related to food texture) might influence subsequent food choices.
For example, participants in one study 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 to thank them 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 (vs. hard). In contrast, when made to focus on the calorie content, the participants consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were hard (vs. soft).
Consistent with previous theories about mouthfeel and orosensory perception, the authors wrote, “specifically, fatty and creamy foods inducing high orosensory perception and requiring lower mastication tend to be considered more calorific. Over time, through associative learning, other foods that provide similar high orosensory perceptions and require low mastication are also considered more calorific. Thus, soft (vs. hard) and smooth (vs. rough) food items are perceived as higher in calories.”
Furthermore, although study participants overestimated the calorie content regardless of the food’s texture, the softness or smoothness of the food further inflated this calorie overestimation, the researchers found.
The study could have implications for food marketers, especially on how they influence consumers’ caloric estimates through manipulation of the mastication process, either through imagery in advertising or encouraging consumers to eat certain foods in specific ways. “Interestingly, some food product manufacturers are calling their products ‘meltaways’ (e.g., Pecan Meltaway Cookies and Hershey’s Bliss with Meltaway Centers), which might enhance the orosensory perception associated with eating these food items and even influence consumption volume,” the authors concluded.
Source: Journal of Consumer Research
“Something to chew on: The effects of oral haptics on mastication, orosensory perception and calorie estimation”
Authors: Dipayan Biswas, Courtney Szocs, Aradhna Krishna, and Donald R. Lehmann