POST OF THE MONTH: Katerina Katsikari

An interview with Katerina Katsikari, Department of Consumer, Sensory and Innovation at Nofima AS and Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)



You have started a new research project now, what is it about? And what do you hope to find out?
In this project, we are investigating how food texture can influence consumers' liking and satiety perception of foods with different degrees of processing. Food texture is not a well-investigated field yet, as, for instance, is food taste or flavour. Food texture is also a multi-dimensional perception. You can "sense" the texture of a food item with your tongue, teeth, and lips and "feel" the temperature of the food and all that changes throughout the mastication process with the extra factor of saliva. So, one part of our project is to assess people's oral tactile sensitivity with instrumental methods and try to compare our results with previous results and categorisations. 
Another focus of our research is the processed foods. Processing is not necessarily a bad factor itself, as most of the products nowadays have a level of processing in order to be able to have a longer shelf life or even to transport them to other places on the planet. But of course, most of the ultra-processed foods are considered unhealthy as they contain a large amount of fat, sugar and calories. Additionally they are usually soft as well, which makes them easier and quicker to chew. Combined with the low satiating feeling they give, they may as well lead to more extensive consumption of high-caloric and sugary food. In the long term, frequent consumption of this type of food can promote obesity and chronic diseases. We, therefore, want to see if people with different levels of tactile sensitivity have preferences for specific groups of food textures of different levels of processing and how we can later use this information to promote a healthier lifestyle. 
Why is this important to know?
When people choose what food they want to consume, they usually think about taste or flavour. However, the texture is a subconscious, equally important factor for them. Many people will reject food because it's too hard or perhaps too creamy, for example, which may lead them to unpleasant sensations. While others may prefer exclusively softer and fluffier textures. Therefore, it's crucial to understand consumers' preferences and create new healthy products with the most optimal attributes possible for them.  
How do you see food in the future - will the texture and ingredients be different?
More food products with a focus on texture will eventually be released in the future, as the interest of researchers in food texture has increased in the last few years. For example, designing textures in formulated food can be possible to ensure they are equally liked but not so easy or quick to eat to avoid overeating. For instance, by making it denser or more complex in texture by adding particles, you will have a longer chewing period and hopefully less intake. On the other hand, new foods can be created and optimised for specific groups of people. A food item that is nutrient, soft to chew, less satiating and low in sugar and fat could be an ideal option for elderly people who are struggling with issues in the oral cavity. 
Why does this interest you?
Moving to different countries around Europe myself, I noticed that people perceived as "usual" different textural versions of the same food product in each country. For example, Italians accept to have their pasta only al-dente, whereas other Europeans tend to cook their pasta for a longer period to have a softer version of it. So it is for sure a matter of culture and traditions, yes. But what if it is not just that? What if people differ in levels of oral tactile sensitivity, and depending on that, they tend to prefer specific group products for consumption? And what if we can help them in the future to change their eating habits and choose healthier versions of products they are already used to? My goal is to find answers to these questions. 
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