What Is Mouthfeel, and Why Do Some Foods Just Feel Funny?

Many people can't get over the way Jello feels in their mouth, even if it is tasty. (Photo: Afrika Studio/Shutterstock)

"Red delicious = sickly sweet styrofoam."

That sentiment about apples was made in a AskReddit thread about what foods people avoid because of mouthfeel. Of all the foods that responders mentioned, apples caused the most commotion. Soft, mealy, grainy Red Delicious apples are anything but delicious, and people reminisced about the apples of old, before they were bred to always be bright red and seemingly pre-chewed.

Of the hundreds of "red disgusting" apple comments, this one from Reditt user cicisbeette, warning against Red Delicious, was my favorite:

Not to forget the leaden blow of disappointment when you get psyched up about savouring the first crisp bite of a fresh apple, your teeth sinking into the firm flesh like the first footsteps in a virgin field of snow, and the dream bursts into this floury ball of lies in your hand that is currently disintegrating in its faux-rotten state inside your mouth.

That's some seriously disappointing mouthfeel.

But what does it really mean when we talk about a food's "mouthfeel"? We may describe a food we enjoy by saying something like, "I love how creamy these mashed potatoes are," which means we like the way they feel in our mouths. We may also describe foods we have an aversion to by saying they're "slimy" or "squishy," or even "floury ball of lies" and blame our dislike on the way the food feels, not the way it tastes.

But, are mouthfeel and taste really separate? Food scientist and the author of "Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste" Ole Mouritsen told Splendid Table that mouthfeel, or texture, is part of taste.

When most people talk about taste, they don't mean the taste that is technically on the tongue; it's just as much in the nose, ears, or eyes. Also, very much in feeling in the mouth.

If you've ever had to eat a pureed food that you normally wouldn't eat in that form, you've experienced firsthand how texture can affect taste. I remember when my great aunt was in a nursing home and was on a diet of all pureed foods. It was the same food she would have normally eaten, only put in a blender and turned into mush. She refused to eat it. Worried about her lack of eating, I tried one of the foods to show her it wasn't that big of a deal. It was unpalatable. From that day on, I always snuck a milkshake in with me when I visited her.

A ketchup experiment

Even if they're made from exactly the same ingredients, ketchups with different textures will have different flavors. (Photo: Komarina/Shutterstock)

Mouritsen told Splendid Table about an experiment he was part of where ketchup was made using identical ingredients, but processed differently. One ketchup was made completely smooth; the other was made chunky and course. The ketchups were found to taste remarkably different, even though the ingredients were exactly the same.

It all came down to the texture, "possibly because the release of the aroma compounds may be different when you have to chew and when you don't have to chew." In principle the taste and aroma were the same, Mouristen commented, but because the mouthfeel was different, the ketchups seemed to taste different when eaten. This definitely can explain the difference in the pureed versus the non-pureed foods at my great aunt's nursing home. Without chewing, aroma compounds weren't released.

I got into a discussion on Facebook about foods with mouthfeel that people don't like — foods that gross people out and make them gag. I found some of them very surprising and some of them relatable.


bunch of ripe bananas
This nutritious fruit isn't always palatable for some people. (Photo: jster91/flickr)

I was surprised that several people said they can't handle the texture of bananas. They say they love the taste and smell, but they can't get past the way bananas feel in their mouth.


tomatoes on the counter
It's the inside mushiness that turns some people off tomatoes. (Photo: Olha Afanasieva/Shutterstock)

Tomatoes were another surprise to me. Some said they are soft inside, and that's not appealing. One friend said she "literally gags on a slice." For some people it's the gooey, seedy part that freaks them out.


strawberry jello
A lot of people don't seem to be crazy about Jello. (Photo: Aleksandra Duda/Shutterstock)

I'm not so surprised that Jello was mentioned several times. I'm not crazy about the gelatinous texture of Jello, but I can eat it. Several of my friends are anti-Jello, and if it has fruit in it, it's extra gag-inducing. One friend can't even watch someone else eat Jello.

Oysters and clams

Photo: Nishihama/Shutterstock

Slimy was a big reason why several foods were mentioned, and oysters and clams topped the list of slimy foods. Other foods people found slimy were okra, tripe, tofu and mushrooms.

Other foods mentioned were lima beans (too dry), calamari (it's like a spider in your mouth), peaches with skin (fuzzy), blueberries (mushy) and egg salad (squishy).

As adults, we may feel our texture-based food aversions are crazy, but once we know there's food science behind it, it doesn't seem so silly. Do you have any foods you can't eat because of their mouthfeel?