How the cookie crumbles: texture affects health perception

Wednesday, 15 January, 2020

How the cookie crumbles: texture affects health perception

Research from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has revealed that changing the surface texture of food products could change consumer perceptions and promote healthy eating. Led by consumer psychologist Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, the study investigated people’s perceptions of identical biscuits with six different textures, with findings from the study published in Food Quality and Preference.

“The findings are really exciting as they give food manufacturers a means to design foods that can help consumers make healthier choices,” said Dr Jansson-Boyd, Reader in Psychology at ARU.

The research involved 88 people rating six oat biscuits on healthiness, tastiness, crunchiness, chewiness, pleasantness and likelihood of purchase based on their visual appearance, not taste or touch. Prior research has revealed that packaging, labelling and the texture of a cup or plate can alter people’s perceptions of food.

“A sweet item, such as a biscuit, benefits from having an appearance as being less healthy as that increases the perception of tastiness and increases the likelihood of purchase. To guide healthier purchasing decisions, food producers can therefore look to use non-healthy-looking, smoother textures to overcome this perception that healthy is not tasty,” said Dr Jansson-Boyd.

Researchers selected oat biscuits as they represent both a ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ snack. The research found that the surface texture of the oat biscuit clearly communicated to people how healthy it was likely to be, with participants perceiving biscuits with a pronounced texture to be healthier. However, biscuits with a less explicitly textured surface were perceived to be tastier, crunchier and more likely to be purchased. Perceived tastiness also increased as healthiness decreased, while the likelihood of purchase increased with low healthiness and decreased with high healthiness.

Having a ‘healthy-looking’ texture was considered to be a negative attribute as it reduces perceived tastiness, a key criteria for purchasing biscuits. The research findings have implications for a range of food producers. With the World Health Organization declaring an obesity epidemic, food producers need to consider how to encourage improved eating patterns.

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