Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 4 p.m.
For most people, the mouthfeel of a food is every bit as important as the way the food looks, tastes and smells. A bright-red apple can glisten with promise, but one bite that's mealy will result in that apple being thrown in the compost pile. A delicate little bunch of gnocchi look divine in a shallow dish, but if those gnocchi are slimy and undercooked -- leaving a wet dough feel in the mouth -- they're destined for the garbage can.
For some people, though, it doesn't matter if the fruit has simply moved past its prime or the pasta was cooked incorrectly -- they won't eat any food at all if it has a certain texture associated with it. Below are the top five most commonly encountered food texture issues, along with the heaping sides of crazy that people use to justify avoiding certain foods.
Orange juice with pulp? Tastes like someone accidentally grated an ounce of their own flesh into the beverage during a horrible juicer accident. Coconut flakes on top of a German chocolate cake? Tastes like someone put wood shavings in the frosting just to screw with you. There's just something about the tiny, scab-like, annoying, sometimes gritty, always disgusting feel of soggy, fibrous scales of pulp or flakes that screams, "THIS DOESN'T BELONG IN FOOD."
Whether it be plain old butter or a hunk of gently melting Brie, some peoples' gag reflexes are instantly triggered when anything creamy passes their lips and coats their palates. People's sensitivity to it seems to vary -- one can eat cream cheese, for example, but not runny yogurt. Or they can drink skim milk but not the thicker whole milk or cream. Hard cheese is okay, but anything remotely soft makes them want to vomit. And for some truly unfortunate people, this aversion applies to other activities outside of the kitchen as well. Too bad for them (and their significant others).
Let's be realistic: You're eating intestines. And stomach lining. And possibly a combination of both. Did you really expect it to taste like fine foie gras? Some people can't stomach (see what we did there?) the texture of the chewy, slightly tough taste of chicharrones -- not the fried pork rinds you get in a bag, but the stewed chicharrones you get from a taco truck -- or the various textures presented in a bowl of menudo. One would suppose that the same people don't like the chewy texture of calamari, either, but that doesn't seem to stop people from ordering tarted-up squid at a restaurant while turning up their nose at a bowl of menudo.
As covered on Eating Our Words this morning, some people are very opposed to eating any food that feels gritty in the mouth. This category would encompass grits, polenta, farina (a.k.a. Cream of Wheat or Malt-O-Meal) or anything that has mistakenly gotten some grit or dirt into it (poorly washed spinach, for example). The entire gritty texture issue is a reasonable one -- no one wants to think of dirt or gravel when they're masticating their food. But it's also an avoidable one. Cook the grits (or polenta or farina) correctly, and fully wash your food before serving. Et voila -- gritty texture problem solved.
This texture issue also makes a lot of sense, although it's totally unavoidable unless you want to deny yourself the deliciousness that is Ethiopian food. Injera bread is a flatbread made from teff flour and is similar in texture and flavor to sourdough...if sourdough was as thin as a piece of cloth. Yes, it's a fair comparison to say that injera bread feels like eating a Dr. Scholl's insert. It's slightly porous, cold and a bit chewy, with a bizarre vinegar-like scent that one could associate with the inside of a shoe. It's an acquired taste, to say the least.