Continuing with my periodic test-tasting in the name of science, I had a go at rating apple juice several weeks ago. This test was very straightforward: we sipped from plastic cups and responded to a scale of how much we liked the the appearance, taste, texture, and viscosity of each juice. Then we rated them on various taste and texture factors: obvious ones (sweetness and sourness and whether it left a dry or metallic taste) and a few surprising ones (whether it was slick or had a “fat feel”, or whether it was grainy or lumpy).
I don’t drink apple juice often–storebought juice is usually too sweet, and slick since you asked, but not long ago I had a freshly juiced apple blend at a breakfast joint with a juice bar, and it was perfect: not too sweet, rather tart, slightly dry mouthfeel, a little grainy because of the apple bits in it. None of the juices we were given at the taste test were tart, sour, or bitter, and none of them had apple bits in them; several, though, were quite viscous, very much a texture I associate with liquids that aren’t food (dish soap, drain cleaner, etc.).
I wasn’t as grossed out as I might have been, though, because I was reminded of the time my family almost bought a beverage thickener for my grandmother. After she had been sick for a very long time and began to use an oxygen tank to breathe, she found it difficult to swallow liquid without aspirating it. It was summer, and we wanted to give her plenty of liquids, so her healthcare providers suggested that we get a thickener to make the liquids heavy and dense enough to swallow. We, her family, had lots of questions about this: what is it made of? (I’m still not sure; I think it has something to do with cornstarch.) Does it change the color or appearance of things? The taste? What should we thicken? Thickened juice? Thickened water?
I suggested that we instead buy liquids that were already thick, with the bonus of being nutritious: V8, bottled fruit smoothies made dense with yogurt or bananas. This worked very well for awhile, until she no longer wanted food at all; but at that point, she’d relinquished the oxygen tank and crunched on ice without worrying about dysphagia.
It’s hard to pin down the reason why we all recoiled at the thought of thick water. It wouldn’t necessarily taste different, or quench thirst less. But thick water just seems somehow wrong; all liquids are somewhat viscous, but water is almost the most runny a liquid can be. The thought of making water slow or making it feel heavier made our throats constrict.
Of course, we might not have been so picky if we were the thirsty ones, and if there were no better options. So when I got to the final page of the taste test form and answered questions pertaining to whether I had ever worked in a medical field, I thought I understood. . . and I hope the testing research leads to a delicious, thirst-quenching, dysphagia-friendly beverage.