How Improving Food Texture Can Affect Depression, Poor Nutrition, and Eating After Cancer and COVID

There are some people who would be nervous to hear that the food they are about to eat has a “high resistance factor”.

Fuchsia Dunlop is not one of them.

Dunlop is a celebrated Sichuan cuisine expert and the author of several best-selling cookbooks.

An ingredient like duck tongue, he explains, requires the diner to use their tongue and teeth to “hold on” to the food, working hard to separate the bouncy meat from the thin spikes of cartilage.

When dishes like duck tongues are served, Dunlop asks them to put aside their prejudices and focus on the mouthfeel. (Getty Images: dashu83)

Paying attention to texture, even when it may seem unattractive at first, can have a big impact, says Dunlop. ABC RN Life Plan.

But, are we predisposed to enjoy some textures over others?

And why do experts argue that there is a connection between texture and malnutrition, depression and anxiety, and life during chemotherapy and COVID?

Cruncher, chewer, sucker or pounder?

In his memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Dunlop devotes an entire chapter to the importance of texture and mouthfeel in Chinese cuisine.

She describes the “cui” or crunchiness of fresh crunchy vegetables, the “brown xing” or springy elasticity found in foods like squid balls, and the “shuang” or texture that “evokes a refreshing, shiny, slippery feeling.” and fresh in the mouth”.

A woman in a patterned dress stands with her arms crossed and a faint smile on her face.
Fuchsia Dunlop makes trying new textures part of the “intentional pursuit of pleasure”. (Getty Images via Corbis: Colin McPherson)

These are not things she has always been well versed in.

“There were a lot of ingredients that were initially incomprehensible to me,” says Dunlop.

These include some that westerners tend to find disgusting; ingredients that are “slimy, slippery, bouncy and rubbery,” such as “the moist freshness of cartilage, the crisp liveliness of goose intestines [or] the gooey voluptuousness of that reconstituted dried sea cucumber”.

Professor Russell Keast, director of the CASS Food Research Center at Deakin University, says texture is primarily perceived by the sense of touch and sound in the mouth.

He explains that there are three different surfaces in the mouth that perceive texture: the tongue, the hard palate, and the gums.

By contrast, your fingertip, while sensitive, has only one texture-sensing surface.

Also, the mouth has fewer types of nerves to detect mechanical sensations or pressure differences (known as mechanoreceptors) than in the finger.

This means that while the mouth is great at detecting textures, we can’t assume that it detects them in the same way that our fingers do.

“So there’s a complexity to food texture that we don’t fully understand,” says Professor Keast.

Two plates with pieces of fried cod are placed on a table next to a crispy cucumber salad
We rely not only on smell and sight, but also on texture to know when our food is fresh and of good quality, says Professor Russell Keast. (Supplied: Life Kitchen)

Add to this the role that sound plays in how we perceive texture and things only get more complicated.

Research published in a 2005 Journal of Sensory Studies article showed that simply by manipulating the volume of what diners heard, researchers were able to trick people into perceiving a chip as 15% crispier and fresher What if softer sounds were played instead.

Still, determining what kind of texture you like can be pretty simple: Professor Keast makes it clear that it’s not an academic definition, but that we often fall into one of four categories: crushers, chewers, suckers, or squishies.

“Chewers” like chocolate with nuts, while “chewers” prefer a ripe cherry or chewy candy.

“Suckers” like something that melts and “Smashers” prefer a candy bar with a marshmallow filling.

Exploding Tomatoes and Other Concerns

More than just preferences, the textures we gravitate towards can have a variety of impacts.

Families with children who are neurodivergent may face challenges with hypersensitivity to certain foods and food textures.

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