Why do American diners have limited texture preferences?

Tasteless jellyfish. Maybe a little bit of salt — traces of the sea, or traces of how organisms taken from their natural habitat for preservation are packed (not their life, but their viability as food). When you make a raw salad, you can taste only the absorbed ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar, sprinkled garlic, and a pinch of sugar. A culinary craving in some cultures is a completely different texture than jelly. The flesh wobbles, but does not deliquesce. Instead, jellyfish are almost half made up of collagen, so they resist and clench their teeth under their teeth.

This is a different crunch than you get from dipping your teeth in walnuts, or lacy rounds of lotus root rolled in a wok, or a golden tip of croissant or sugar set on fire in a glassine dish over crème brûlée. . Still, English speakers often use words like “crispy” (some etymologists date it to the late 19th century) or “crispy” (“crisp” originally meant “curly” but We need to look beyond what we have come to do to find words to describe these textures. “brittle” in the 16th century). Other languages ​​are richer.British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop is a Chinese food writer. Cui“chewy but ultimately clean, pleasantly crispy” (e.g., burnt goose intestines, celery stalks), and vinegar, “a dry, brittle, crumbling crispness” (e.g. fried duck skin). A 2008 report in the Journal of Texture Studies lists 144 Chinese food texture terms, including finer gradations of chewy and crunchy. KuinenCrisp but tender, like spring bamboo shoots and asparagus spears. songCrunchy and loose, like Lawson’s tangled tendrils (pork is boiled, minced, and dried to dryness). Suruancrumbly, then soft, like pastry that melts on touch.

In Japan, there are over 400 such terms. “Too much,” a team of Japanese scientists noted, inconsistently using these terms in papers presented at the 2016 International Conference on Knowledge Bases and Intelligent Information and Engineering Systems. and objected. Translation is difficult because I am a native speaker. Onomatopoeia rules the day: A wavy strip of bacon provides a clean crack. Crunchyas opposed to crunchy (a mushy bite, like an apple right by the tree), crunchy (fractures softened by richness, such as those found in buttery cookies and chicharrons – pork rinds dropped in hot oil spread like clouds), skinny (hard, icy texture that strains the jaw), crunchy (a delicate crushing method typified by senbei) and crispy (Even the fragile grinding achieved by cut potato chips).

And this is just crunch. How about the shy semi-surrender that Italians worship as “al dente” in pasta and Taiwanese as “Q” (or “QQ” if the food in question is very springy) in noodles and boba? Resistant yolk threatening to slide off the 6-minute egg. The seraphic weight of chiffon cake. The melted fat from the pork belly slab slowly melts away. What about goo, foam, dust and air? What is the world between slime and velvet, decay and rejection, succulent and dry?

Not only does the English language lack a robust vocabulary for food textures, but by necessity or by chance, English speakers tend to focus on a narrower range of textures. There have always been differences in what people in different regions eat, based on the flora and fauna that underpinned it. Europe, where many Americans trace their heritage, thickened with Nigerian obono (bush mango seed). Much less biodiversity than in Asia, Africa, and South America, where many Americans think they admire the more challenging textures, from the consistency of the soup. into a sponge. In a 2002 study by American sensory scientist Jeannine F. Delwiche conducted at Ohio State University, respondents thought texture was less important than taste and aroma in their impact on flavor. Often confused with taste, but where taste can be quantified — corresponding to messages sent to the brain when receptor cells on the tongue detect certain chemical components in food — flavor is vague. : Aesthetic judgments. Often defined as the confluence of taste, smell and memory, other senses invade. Those who do have been shown to have difficulty discerning tastes.

Sound also serves as a texture marker. In his 2004 study by Italian cognitive neuroscientist Massimiliano Zampini and British experimental psychologist Charles Spence, participants rated the same potato chips as crunchier when the frequency of crushing them was amplified. The bigger the shards — the more they echo through your skull — the crisper and better the potato chip is considered, true to its destiny. Here, as with jellyfish, the taste is an afterthought. Texture is everything.

When we call a food crunchy or creamy, perhaps the two most coveted textures in the United States, we identify some of its mechanical properties. That is, how it reacts and deforms when a force is applied, whether resisting or surrendering. Crunch is recorded as minor vandalism. I feel my teeth breaking through the flesh of the apple. Exactly which teeth are engaged can make the difference between crunchy and crunchy. Food scientists believe that crunchiness, which means density, requires gnawing on the molars at the back of the mouth, while a crunchy pitch is caused by biting the front teeth with the incisors.

A preference for crunchiness may have given early humans an evolutionary advantage indicating that food was safe to eat, as an indicator of its freshness. (If the soggy texture of potato chips is a failure and a disgrace, it may indicate spoilage and danger in other foods.) relied on an insect diet. Food was easier to digest, allowing us to take in more calories in less time, and a corresponding increase in brain size – attracted to the crunch and browning that occurs when food is exposed to heat. American anthropologist John S. Allen in The Omnivorous Mind (2012) writes:

Perhaps our love of crunch is an artifact of our primal selves. increase. There is something crucial about how easily certain foods crumble. The creaminess we experience is more passively felt and judged by velocity, such as the weight on the tongue and flow conditions. That is, how slowly the material moves and how tightly it sticks to the spoon. (One factor for this is certain enzymes in saliva that break down starches. The more enzymes that are present, the faster they break down. This is why the same spoonful is creamy for some people. , which may explain why it is mushy to another person.), such richness may have served as a testament to the presence of necessary nutrients and fats. It is a substitute for luxury.

Going further, the primacy of chewiness and creaminess in the tastes of American diners can be read as a metaphor. It’s a clever enactment of the dynamics of conquest and submission, and a historically preferred way of interacting with others in America. But sometimes potato chips are just potato chips. You can enjoy a good crunch without channeling imperialism. And imperial ambitions are hardly limited to America. We should interpret the culture’s claim to devouring all textures as another form of declaring dominion and curtailing all non-human life. we — to potential food?

What’s even more interesting is why the texture that has been loved in many cultures has come to be shunned by Americans. Tendons turned into jelly in a bowl of pho. The dense smoothness of okra that leaks a mineral-rich mucus. These were once common elements in most people’s diets. Until relatively recently in human history, our ancestors didn’t have much of a choice. We ate the same food. occur. When hierarchy takes root.

Traditionally, those at the top of the hierarchy had the widest range of diets, sometimes including ingredients that were difficult to obtain from the edges of the empire. Then, industrialization that began in England in the mid-18th century changed the relationship between diner and food source. In 1820, farm workers were reported to make up about 72% of the American labor force. Now, according to the USDA, they’re just over 1%. Alienation sets in and diminishes with it. As a result of World War II, packaged and processed foods became the norm in many American homes. Namely, foods that have both the hassle and the complexity removed, like unruly chicken hearts and stretchy, sticky natto (fermented soybeans). This was simply compulsory food. No more resistance textures if you want. A mess that reminds us of where our food comes from, the dark interior of our bodies.

But Americans today gravitate away from complacency and toward a more dramatic sense of food. , may be a manifestation of a general social tendency toward extremes. Or is it the desire to feel more, to know more, to be more? Maybe the tide has turned? The counterculture of the 1960s was partially focused on ideas that are now mostly mainstream. It means we need to move away from the commercialization and corporatization of our lives, including what we put on our table and how we feed each other. Over the past decade, home-cooked meals cooked from scratch have triumphed as an ideal (though not always achievable for those with limited resources).

At the same time, other culinary knowledge has become a kind of cultural capital. While globalization threatens to erase differences by turning every place into a market for the same product, Americans are benefiting from increased exposure to food from around the world. Sometimes these foods are ridiculed, as in the 2001-2006 TV game show “Fear Factor” (now hosted by the highly influential podcaster Joe Rogan). In some cases, contestants were fed silkworm pupae. (street snacks in parts of Asia), various animal eyes (often prepared for honored guests in other cultures), and buffalo testicles (actually an American cowboy dish). , surprisingly tender when cooked properly).

Admittedly, none of these foods have made it into the mainstream American diet. California rolls are a hearty mixture of crab and avocado drizzled with mayonnaise, for the smoothness of raw fish and the cold, salty custard of sea urchin. What was once a dare is now just a night out. Go ahead and look a little further down the menu or follow the chef’s will. Maybe you’ll receive a gift: a small plate of what looks like a chunky curl of dough, a creamy bean, or a larva that gathers together to keep you warm. This is a white cod sperm sac, soft and milky like an oyster. Slip them on your tongue.

Set design by Jocelyn Cabral. Photo Assistant: TJ Elias.Assistant Set Designer: Maggie DiMarco

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