Abstract Adjustments of mastication to food texture have been examined in various studies, but the notion of food texture is often ill defined and usually assessed in terms of hardness. The goal of this study was to examine the pattern of activity in masseter and temporalis muscles during mastication of different food samples with known textural properties and to determine the interindividual variability. Electromyograms were recorded from the right and left masseter and temporalis muscles in 36 young adults during ‘free-style’ and side-imposed mastication. Five different types of food with known rheological properties were used. Both temporalis and masseter activity increased with increased stress at maximum strain of the chewed samples. A power function optimally described the relation between muscle work per chew and the mechanical measurements of food; this confirmed that the masticatory process is adjusted to accommodate to food texture. Temporalis muscle activity was more influenced by food texture than was masseter muscle activity. Less muscle work was needed to prepare the food bolus for swallowing during free-style mastication. However, 25% of the participants showed no differences between unilateral side-imposed mastication and ‘free-style’, suggesting that they might have greater chewing efficiency on one side.