Texture: The Under-Appreciated Food Factor
Taste. Aroma. Portion. These are the common traits that are considered when it comes to quality food. Long has this triplet of brothers dominated the landscape of culinary judgment.
In the face of overwhelming odds, I am here to stick up for the forgotten sibling: texture.
All its life, texture has been ignored; forgotten. It’s hard to cast any blame. No mere mortal can draw higher thought when taking their first juicy bite into a sumptuous slice of pork belly. The flavor inundates your senses and turns even the most hardened food critic into a blob. In fact, texture is so important in Chinese culinary tradition, we even have a specific term for it -- "Mouth Feel".
Let us deconstruct this experience. The flavor of pork belly is second to none in the world of hog. It’s heavy and rich, yet delightfully complex. The smoked essence of the fat creates an aromatic that complements the taste. Finally, you can find no complaint with the portion, for even the smallest slice of pork belly carries enough protein and fat to ensure your satisfaction.
Now, let’s dig deeper. When biting into pork belly, the first thing you notice is the distinctive crunch. After hours of slow-roasting, the skin has become crispy. It is hard, but gives way to your teeth without too much effort. This mild resistance offers a crunch matched by few other foods (besides maybe a nearly-raw asparagus or a particularly thick Dorito). Once you’ve made it past the skin, you sink into the fat. Now, this is no ordinary fat. Whereas the fat on a regular cut of meat is chewy and viscous; the fat on a pork belly melts away with the movements of your mouth. This makes for an incredibly juicy second layer. Finally, we reach the bulk of the bite: the meat. Unlike the crisp feel of bacon or the chewy nature of a pork chop, pork belly meat is tender. It has absorbed enough moisture from the fact to permeate the tough muscle fibers. Awesome!
Now this last rant has just illustrated my point. Other than the shameless plug for pork belly (which I love), I also detailed the numerous other textures that various pork dishes can have.
I would conjecture to say that, rather than the taste or aroma of said dishes; it is the texture itself that makes each of them unique. Imagine a carrot without the crunch or a cake without fluff. It just wouldn’t be the same! Everyone has a personal take on flavor: a complex system of taste buds sends electric signals to our brains that determine how we experience it. However, texture is a universal factor to everyone. A banana is mushy and ice cream is melty.
Next time you take a bite of food, try and note the texture of each dish. You’ll be surprised how many exist.