What Is Mouthfeel?

A Guide to the Concept of Mouthfeel in Food and Drink

Wine tasting
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Mouthfeel is the physical sensation a food or drink creates in the mouth, including the tongue and the roof of the mouth. It is different from taste or flavor, though some mouthfeel terms overlap with flavor or aftertaste.

The term "mouthfeel" (or "mouth feel") may be used to describe the sensation produced when a food / drink is in the mouth or after it has been swallowed (as is the case with the drying sensation caused by astringent tastes). The term is best-known for its use in wine tasting, but it also applies to other beverages, such as coffeetea and beer, and is central to food rheology (the science of food textures).

"Body" in Mouthfeel

In discussions of mouthfeel for beverages, you'll often hear people refer to the "body" of a drink. This has to do with how heavy, thick or viscous it feels in the mouth and throat. The easiest way to think of it is like milk: skim milk is light-bodied, 2% milk is medium-bodied and full-fat milk is full-bodied (or heavy-bodied).

The separation between, say, full-bodied and medium-bodied is different depending on the beverage in question--it's all relative. For example, a full-bodied beer is likely to feel heavier and more viscous in the mouth than a full-bodied tea.

Examples of Mouthfeel in Tasting

Perhaps the best example of mouthfeel in wine, tea and coffee tasting is astringency, which is often considered to be a taste, but which is actually a drying sensation on the tongue and in the mouth. Other common descriptors for mouthfeel in coffee, wine, beer and tea tasting include:

  • Delicate or light
  • Heavy or dense
  • Smooth or rough
  • Watery
  • Creamy or milky
  • Oily, buttery or viscous
  • "Tea-like" (a common mouthfeel descriptor in coffee tasting)
  • Silky
  • Velvety
  • Coating
  • Drying
  • Metallic
  • Mouth-watering, moistening or saliva-inducing
  • Tingly, effervescent or bubbly
  • Powdery (a term sometimes used in beer tasting) 
  • Warming or cooling
  • Minty or refreshing
  • Brisk

In food tasting, other common mouthfeel descriptors include firm / hard, soft / tender, chewy, gelatinous / jelly-like, gummy, slimy / slippery, grainy, crisp / crunchy, fresh / stale, ripe, resilient / springy, spreadable, chunky and crusty.

Mouthfeel in Chinese Tea Tasting

In Chinese tea tasting terminology, you'll find several ways of identifying mouthfeel that are different from Western tea tasting terms. As a category, mouthfeel is known as Co Gan in Chinese tea tasting. Co Gan categories include:

  • Fong Fu, a term roughly equivalent to "full-bodied"
  • Gan, a combination of mouthfeel and taste
  • Hui gan, a combination of mouthfeel and aftertaste
  • Ruan, a mouthfeel-specific tea term
  • Se, a combination of flavor, aftertaste and mouthfeel
  • Shen Jing, a combination of flavor and mouthfeel

The Human Element in Mouthfeel

Although attempts have been made to quantify mouthfeel with various technologies, there are not yet any technological alternatives that compare to the human ability to sense and identify mouthfeel characteristics.

This is in part because mouthfeel centers around a complex set of sensations and associations, which are extremely difficult for a machine to analyze and quantify.

It is also influenced by the fact that mouthfeel can vary substantially from when a food or drink first passes through the lips to when it is partially or fully chewed (in the case of food) to after it is swallowed. (For example, a tea may start off with a creamy texture and end with a mouth-watering sensation, or start with a rough mouthfeel and finish with a drying astringency.)

Alternate Spellings

mouth-feel, mouth feel