There’s no shortage of high-quality cooking equipment here in the test kitchen. We have dozens of shelves stocked with our winning appliances and cookware, from cast-iron skillets to waffle irons. But there’s one piece of equipment in our kitchen that you probably won’t find in home kitchens: a texture analyzer. Typically found in laboratories, we use our CT3 Texture Analyzer to measure everything from how much force it takes to bite into a piece of beef to the tenderness of mushrooms. Recently, Eric Chiang, a Sales Manager at AMETEK Brookfield, which makes the CT3, visited the test kitchen to teach us more about this powerful tool. Eric has been working in the field of texture analysis for years. Naturally, we were curious as to what that entails, so we asked him a few questions:
Cook’s Illustrated: What, exactly, is texture analysis?
Eric Chiang: Texture analysis establishes a correlation between the quantitatively measured physical properties of a sample—like its hardness, chewiness, stickiness, crispness—and the subjective sensory properties perceived by the consumer during actions such as touching, squeezing, chewing, or spreading.
CI: Who uses texture analyzers in their work?
EC: Our Brookfield Texture Analyzers are used in a wide range of industries, such as food, cosmetics, personal care, pharmaceuticals, and materials science. It’s also used by colleges and universities in their labs.
CI: What kinds of products do they test?
EC: For food, we see texture analysis used on a wide range of products: mayonnaise, flatbreads, granola and energy bars, cheese,peanut butter, dough, fruit, and more. In personal care and cosmetics, companies measure properties of items like shampoo, conditioner, lipsticks, and compact powders.
CI: How are we, as consumers, impacted by the results of texture analysis? Where might we experience their results in what we buy and eat?
EC: Companies use a combination of quantitative texture analysis and consumer insights to create products with the most desireable textures—product consistency influences customers’ selections and product preferences. For example, if a customer purchases a specific brand of cookie because it is chewy, he would expect it be chewy every time he purchases it thereafter. A texture analyzer helps with quantifying and qualifying the desirable chewiness of these cookies. It’s also used for quality control, to keep products’ textures consistent from batch to batch.
CI: Is there any way a home cook could do some amateur texture analysis at home?
EC: That’s a tough one! If a person can control how deep and how quickly they can press their finger into something like a muffin, then they will have successfully performed a version of the firmness test. It might give some clues to the freshness of the muffin (or lack thereof).
CI: So, what is your role in all of this?
EC: I was originally a plant and process engineer, which led me to AMETEK Brookfield, who designs, manufactures, markets, and supports all their instruments. As a Sales Manager, I work with the engineering team on new texture product development, test customers’ samples in the lab, and provide technical support as well as training on how to use the instruments.
CI: Last question: What’s the wackiest texture test you’ve ever done on a food product?
EC: Testing the elasticity and extensibility of the small intestines of beef. They’re known as chinchulín, and they’re widely consumed in Latin America. I ate some while in Buenos Aires. . . but testing their extensibility was bizarre.
This interview was originally published in the Cook’s Illustrated: Science! Newsletter. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.