I have returned to my dear Midwest home this month and the weather is simple luscious, if not entirely temperamental! One day it is warm enough to roast vegetables on the grill without a fire and the next it is one of those wonderful Spring days whose beauty weighs down so heavily that you must stop everything and applaud it. My garden has been planted and it won’t be long until the bounty will be flowing like the tide.
Well, Dear Hear, we must continue our chat about food. Last time, we talked thoroughly about the first building block of a dish- the vehicle. This time, Hon, we will talk about the feel of the food. What I mean by feel is not what it feels like in your hands, but in your mouth and on your tongue. A new culinary term has been floating about the gourmet world and has left some wondering…the term is “mouth feel”. Deary, the mouth feel is how the food feels to you as you eat it. Does it feel gritty? Silky? Coarse? Thin? It can almost be referred to as the sixth taste sense (after sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami- more on these later, Hon). The difference is that mouth feel is not about a food’s taste, which originates from taste buds, but from the texture and feel of the food. This is sensed by not only the tongue, but also the cheeks and throat.
Why the feel of the food is so important, Love, is that although the flavors may be wonderful, if food feels clumsy or unexpectedly wrong in the mouth, it will still be an unpleasing eating experience.
What controls mouth feel? Sometimes, it is a matter of how you cook something. For example, vegetables can be grilled or steamed or baked or fried. Some vegetables will be tough, rubbery and unpleasant to eat (although the flavor may be desirable) when grilled or baked improperly. Others become mushy when overcooked or steamed. You should follow a reputable cookbook’s advise when cooking vegetables to avoid the unpleasant textures. The same can be said for pasta. Some of my friends adore pasta and rice cooked al dente but I was raised with them being served fully cooked and soft. Preference for how well something is cooked is purely personal, but something to be aware of when cooking a meal for someone else.
Other things that influence how a food feels in the mouth are its fat content, it’s acidity, spicyness and texture. Foods rich in fat (which are also quite unhealthy if consumed in relatively high amounts) can make a food feel rich, smooth and silky. However, it can also be unpleasant if the fat does not melt, leaving the palate and passing through to the throat. For example, some ice cream dishes can be wonderful from the spoon to the taste buds, but they can leave behind a lard-like residue on the roof of the mouth. Clearly something to be avoided! Sugars can also make a food feel more smooth to the mouth. Salts, vinegars (acids) and calcium can make the food feel rough or coarser in texture than it actually is.
The acidity of a dish can make it feel sharp against the tongue, with a biting sensation. Dry wine can feel slightly rough or sharp against the tongue because of the acids. This can be exciting or overbearingly obnoxious. Very dry wines, salad dressings and pickled dishes may need some counterbalancing accompaniments if they contain a high acid content. The same can be said for dishes with a lot of spicy heat.
Lastly, Dear Heart, is texture. How finely chopped or how well cooked the dish is can make the individual pieces of the food seem to blend together or shout their individualism bit by bit. Think about how you want the texture of dish to be before beginning to cook. Stringiness or toughness should be avoided at all costs. These can be mitigated by chopping finely, cooking well (by moist heat) or by using oils (dry heat).
Goodbye for now, My Dear! My thoughts are always with you and until next time, Kisses to you!