On one hand, we have foods like jelly or melted cheese which are primarily liquid and seem very easy to eat and swallow. On the other hand, we have astronaut food or some pastries (or cotton candy?) which have no liquid at all. They essentially crumble and turn into dust in your mouth, and are easy to eat as well.

Recently I've had some dried mango and beef jerky, and my understanding is these aren't perfectly liquid-free, and these are really hard to chew!

So why is it that something that's mostly liquid is easy to eat, something that's not liquid at all is easy to eat, but somewhere in the middle we have to put in a lot of effort to chew food? What determines how "chewy" or difficult a food is to eat?

  • 7
    You seem to have latched onto one aspect of a food - its water content - without considering anything else.
    – unlisted
    Jun 13 at 6:56
  • @Tetsujin My question is exactly that: What exactly are the factors? The liquid content is the observation I made. I don't think that invalidates my question. Jun 13 at 9:04
  • Chocolate and coconut oil, for example have no liquid or very little at room temperature, but melt at body temperature. Most things that seem dusty aren't easy to eat as they absorb so much saliva. The exceptions tend to be very sugary as sugar dissolves very well in water, perhaps well enough to keep up with saliva production, which is stimulated by eating - and that's how jerky and the drier dried fruit soften.
    – Chris H
    Jun 14 at 9:21
  • 4
    One hint is physical structure: more fibrous means harder to chew (I may be able to turn that into an answer at some point)
    – Chris H
    Jun 14 at 9:22

It depends on how well the "building blocks" of the food stick to each other. The "building blocks" can be different things, whatever you have in the food you are considering: small molecules, polymers, cells, tissue formations, globules, bubbles, films, and probably some more.

If they are not soluble in your saliva and they hold onto each other tightly, you won't be able to separate them well by crushing and shearing with your teeth. If they are loosely held, the food will be easy to chew.

The effects of moisture will be varied, depending on how it contributes to the structure of a given food. You cannot make a general statement based on water content only.

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