Foods that wiggle, foods that jiggle
June 23, 2008 7:36 PM   Subscribe

What exactly is the appeal of jelly-textured foods?

(Pardon my rash generalization here): I've noticed that among some east-Asian cultures (Japan specifically, China too somewhat, though it's more varied food-wise), jelly textured food is quite popular. In fact certain foods seem to be prized as a delicacy specifically because they have this texture.

In western cultures (again, generally) jelly-like foods tend to be sweets or candies, unless you want to get all fancy and talk to me about aspics, which are hardly an everyday food for most of us. But in eastern Asia jelly foods run the gamut to all parts of a meal, and are quite common.

Partially because I find jelly texture repulsive, and partially because I'm genuinely curious...what's the deal?
posted by brain cloud to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The appeal is squishing the food out between your tongue and that's fun!
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 7:46 PM on June 23, 2008

I think it's just out of fashion presently. Have a look at some cookbooks from the 50's, there were savory gelatins galore!
posted by mattholomew at 8:06 PM on June 23, 2008

One of the important aspects of food is the texture. It's right up there with smell, appearance and taste. And, at least for me, the best part of texture is the contrast. Cream cheese and smoked salmon on a toasted bagel, for instance, is a mix of creamy, fleshy, crunchy and chewy. And having little bits of seeds or whatever can add more texture.

Apart from that, I guess it's just tradition and fashion.
posted by stavrogin at 8:11 PM on June 23, 2008

Flavor. It goes everywhere.
posted by Max Power at 8:54 PM on June 23, 2008

What you're looking for here is mouthfeel, the interpretation of which, like anything else, varies widely from culture to culture, for no better reason than, "They just like it that way."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:08 PM on June 23, 2008

Doesn't have to do with access to seaweed, and its appeal relative to other foodstuffs?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:26 PM on June 23, 2008

I honestly don't understand questions like this. What can anyone say, except that they like wiggly food because it's so delightfully...wiggly?

I mean, if you were asking for tips on wiggly food for beginners, or ideas for making wiggly food more palatable for the non-wiggler, I could see it, because then you'd stand a chance of having a positive wiggly experience yourself. But you seem to have already made up your mind.

I think the best way to understand an unfamiliar taste is to acquire it.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:30 PM on June 23, 2008

Jelly-textured foodstuffs would also have an obvious appeal to people with very bad teeth (or no teeth at all).
posted by misteraitch at 1:25 AM on June 24, 2008

A few things to consider--

--they can be shaped and molded in interesting ways
--they can be flavored and colored
--they can transform trimmings and leftovers into more respectable dishes

Some jellied dishes may require coolness to congeal, which in the past would imply access to ice, which would imply wealth, status and rarity. What we can buy as jello today for pennies used to be unusual and expensive to prepare. Not sure how that would apply to agar/seaweed-based items--agar seems to be more stable at room temperature.
posted by gimonca at 5:45 AM on June 24, 2008

Jellied food (aspics) were common in fancy medieval cooking. Jellied fish, especially. Mmm. Its a way of showing off your culinary skill, I suspect. Apart from enjoying the texture, that is.
posted by sandraregina at 6:12 AM on June 24, 2008

because different people like different things?
posted by Julnyes at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2008

Best answer: At least regarding jelly-textured sweets, I believe the appeal has also developed out of (un)availability of certain foods/ crops. From a Serious Eats article on SE Asian sweets:

Because wheat isn't grown here [S.E. Asia], local foods rely heavily on gluten-free crops like rice, tapioca, sago, and mung beans. Traditional S.E. Asian munchies called kuih muih (singular: kuih) are made of native flours, and generally steamed, not baked. This is because back in the day, few households owned ovens, and fuel scarcity made steaming a lot more efficient than baking. As such, some textures that the Western dessert lover is used to in his sweets—crispness and crumbliness—can be missing in a S.E. Asian treat. Instead, a pleasant, softly-yielding bounce (that the Taiwanese call “QQ”) is the dominant texture. While Western treats rely on the caramelization of sugars for chewiness and stretch, S.E. Asian treats rely on the natural “bounce” that sago pearls, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca flour impart.
posted by kitkatcathy at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: we're getting somewhere! Thanks kitkatcathy for that link!

Of course, I'm familiar with the concept of mouthfeel, but I guess what I'm trying to get at is -- what is it about that mouthfeel that makes it so universally popular? I suppose one half of that answer is the different ingredients available and cooking methods that form a diet, and make E.Asian unique. The only theory I've ever had (but unable to back this up, despite being very curious about it) to make up for the rest of it is that the jelly mouthfeel gives the same sort of satisfaction that, say, a fatty/greasy mouthfeel gives. Something about that tells our brain that goo = good. But again, no idea. Just my personal theory.
posted by brain cloud at 8:38 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: And, FWIW...the idea that different people have different food preferences has not escaped my notice. Hopefully it came across in my question that I was trying to dig a little deeper than that. Nor was I trying to paint entire cultures as wierd because they eat lots of foods that are different from what I eat. (That I even have to point this out makes today a sad day for me). I was hoping that somebody who grew up in one of these food cultures, or travelled & ate extensively within one of them, might have some light to shed on the matter.
posted by brain cloud at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2008

One other interesting tidbit I learned in passing: some items like konnyaku are low-calorie and high in fiber, and seem to be popular in weight loss regimens. That might be another secondary factor you could run into.
posted by gimonca at 7:40 AM on June 25, 2008

they're a quick easy way to get some protein in a meal, and hence work for cold climates where you as much as possible, aaaand hot ones (thinking asia here) because you don't have to chew it much (warms you up) or make the oven hot. vietnamese desserts with gelatin are particularly refreshing.
posted by ifjuly at 9:37 PM on June 25, 2008

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