Texture matters: vital aspect of Asian cuisine becomes a global food trend

5 May 2022

Trend Updates

‘Would you be interested in trying foods with different textures?’, we asked thousands of consumers across 44 countries in our Taste Tomorrow research. Globally, 67 percent said they were indeed keen on sampling innovative products with a fluffy or creamy mouthfeel or a chewy or crispy bite. This presents manufacturers with a whole array of potential product developments.  

European producers take the lead

Europe leads the way in product launches laden with texture descriptions. Mintel research shows that European companies and brands are using on-pack descriptions the most. Carbonated drinks, creamy dairy products and juicy fruits, for instance, are touted for their textural qualities. Product developments such as desserts with chia seeds and kombucha with sediment at the bottom also focus a lot of attention on mouthfeel as well as taste. And in the bakery industry, there’s a lot of focus on texture coming from natural processing techniques such as fermentation for sourdough products.

Asian consumers are most interested in textural food

Although European food producers pay a lot of attention to texture in their product releases, consumer interest in trying food with new textures is highest in the Asia-Pacific region where, according to our Taste Tomorrow research, over three in four people were eager to do so. This is in line with their general interest in trying new and unusual tastes (67 percent) and exotic flavors from other parts of the world (66 percent). Both of these figures are significantly higher than the worldwide average. 

The inclination towards new eating experiences varies between Asian countries, however. When it comes to interest in new textures, the numbers are:

Texture in Asian cuisine

Across East and Southeast Asia, texture is often just as important as taste. It is even used as a way to make food taste better; chewy textures, for instance, are often used for this purpose. Kou gan (mouthfeel) is highly valued in China. And Taiwan has a specific term, ‘Q’, for foods with a chewy, starch-like texture, as important for the Taiwanese kitchen as umami is in Japan and al dente in Italy. The term can be found on shop signs, in advertisements, on food packaging and in convenience stores, especially in relation to foods such as noodles, fish balls, and tapioca pearls in bubble milk tea.

Boba, bubble tea or pearl milk tea is perhaps the best-known Asian textural food that has gained popularity worldwide, but there are many more well-loved foods with a special focus on texture. Some examples from the bakery and patisserie world are:

Kuih lapis

The colorful multilayer Indonesian dessert has a unique jelly-like mouthfeel, created by the use of tapioca flour, sugar, and coconut milk. 

Mochi ice cream balls

A soft chewy bite, followed by the creaminess of the ice cream filling: eating a mochi ice cream ball is a true textural experience. The dough on the exterior is made of glutinous rice flour, which provides the chewiness. 

Pandan chiffon cake

It’s not just the vibrant green color that makes this Malaysian favorite stand out. It also has an incredible airy texture (coming from meringue) that catches the eye. 

Milk bread

This uses a roux ‘starter’ (tangzhong) which is mixed into the final dough for an ultra-soft result. 

Japanese cheesecake

Japanese cheesecake is super fluffy, soft and light. The secret to this crustless delicacy is mixing the cream cheese with whipped egg whites.

Trending texture

A study by Innova Market Insights saw the first textural novelties spreading throughout the food industry in 2020. The company predicts that combinations of textures will flourish over the coming years, especially in the snacking arena, where we will see more products such as crunchy and creamy mochi ice cream balls and smooth, chewy bubble milk teas. “Texture can help consumers perceive products as fresh, filling or fun,” says Jenny Zegler, associate director of food and drink at market insight agency Mintel.

The influence of social media

Social media are a huge driver of the texture trend. Interesting textures are appealing to the eye. Creators often make videos feature Cloud Bread, in which they tear the fluffy sweet bread apart to show off its airiness. Another important format that features textural foods is the reaction video, in which people film themselves trying a new product for the first time to capture a candid experience.

younger generations

The most important audience for innovative textural products is younger consumers. Innova Market Insights identifies millennials aged 26 to 35 as the generation most likely to be adventurous and play around with texture. They agreed most with statements such as ‘I love combination textures’ and ‘Textures such as fluffy, crispy or smooth make food and drink more indulgent’. Sixty-eight percent of millennials also made purchase decisions impacted by texture, compared to a 60 percent average for the population as a whole. 

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