Mealiness and Meltingness: The Role of Cell Walls

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Fruits and vegetables can sometimes have a mealy, grainy, dry texture. This results when the cement between neighboring cells is weak, so that chewing breaks the cells apart from each other rather than breaking them open, and we end up with lots of tiny separate cells in our mouth. Then there’s the soft, melting texture of a ripe peach or melon. This too is a manifestation of weakened cell walls, but here the weakening is so extreme that the walls have practically disintegrated, and the watery cell interior oozes out under the least pressure. The contents of the cells also have an effect: a ripe fruit’s vacuole full of sugar solution will give a melting, succulent impression, while a potato’s solid starch grains will contribute a firm chalkiness. Because starch absorbs water when heated, cooked starchy tissue becomes moist but mealy or pasty, never juicy.