Summary: The texture of certain foods may impact how healthy people believe they are. Foods that have less explicitly textured surfaces are perceived to be tastier, but not healthier.
Source: Anglia Ruskin University
New research has demonstrated how food producers could change the surface texture of products to change people’s perceptions and promote healthy eating.
The study, led by Consumer Psychologist Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), investigated people’s perceptions of identical biscuits with six different textures.
Published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, the research involved 88 people rating the six oat biscuits on healthiness, tastiness, crunchiness, chewiness, pleasantness and likelihood of purchase based only on their visual appearance, not on their taste or touch.
Previous studies have shown that packaging, labelling and even the texture of a cup or plate can alter people’s perception of food. This new study looked at how a food product itself can be perceived differently depending on its appearance.
Oat biscuits were chosen as they can represent both a “healthy” and “unhealthy” snack. The research found that the surface texture of the oat biscuit clearly communicated to people how healthy it was likely to be and the participants viewed the biscuits that had an explicit, pronounced texture, as healthier.
However, the biscuits that had a less explicitly textured surface were perceived to be tastier, crunchier and more likely to be purchased. The study found that perceived tastiness increases as healthiness decreases, and the likelihood of purchasing the biscuit increases when perceived healthiness is low and decreases when healthiness is higher.
Therefore having a ‘healthy looking’ texture is considered to be a negative attribute in that it reduces perceived tastiness, a key criteria for purchasing biscuits. This has implications for producers of many different food types.
Dr Jansson-Boyd, Reader in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “The findings are really exciting as they give food manufacturers a means to design foods that can help consumers make healthier choices.
“A sweet item, such as a biscuit, benefits from having an appearance as being less healthy as that increases the perception of tastiness and increases the likelihood of purchase. To guide healthier purchasing decisions, food producers can therefore look to use non-healthy looking, smoother textures to overcome this perception that healthy is not tasty.
“At a time when the World Health Organisation has declared that there is an obesity epidemic, it is essential to think of ways to encourage improved eating patterns. Our research provides a good starting point in how to promote healthier food products.”
To see is to hold: Using food surface textures to communicate product healthiness
In this paper, we test whether the evaluation of food healthiness is affected by tactile surface qualities that are seen but not touched. Furthermore, we explored if visually based tactile surface cues influence perception more or less depending on whether they are explicitly or implicitly presented. Participants were shown 3 implicitly and 3 explicitly textured biscuits that were identical apart from the surface texture. The surfaces were either smooth, medium or rough and were rated on perceived healthiness. Additionally, the biscuits were rated on tastiness, likelihood of purchase, crunchiness and chewiness, aspects that can affect consumer choice outcomes. A pattern emerged whereby implicit surface textures affected perception more than explicit textured surfaces. Specifically, perceived product healthiness was greater for medium textured implicit surfaces. Thus, it seems that food healthiness is influenced by cross-sensory cues. Implicitly rough textures were found to be perceived as crunchier. Determining food properties usually relies on exposing receptors within the mouth to the components of ingested food. However, we demonstrate here that properties such as crunchiness also can be dependent on surface texture. The findings can be used to encourage consumers to purchase healthier food products.