Why do we like crunchy food?

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Take a bite of Cheetos or a fresh apple or tempered chocolate or popcorn, and you’ll get that familiar bronkch chomp sound, followed by the delightful taste as liquids and saliva pleasantly flow over your tongue. This crunch is what makes toast superior to plain bread.

Truly crunchy foods sometimes can hurt, as sharp edges can lacerate the soft tissues in our mouth. Despite this, we love crunchy, crispy, and crackling food.

Food scientists haven’t come up with a standard definition for crunch and crispy. However, research shows that at the heart of crunchy, crispy, or crackling food is the loud, indescribable sound it makes — the sound caused when food breaks.

For the crispness of fruits and vegetables, the sound comes from your teeth breaking the cells or the cell walls of the fruit or vegetable. On the microscopic scale, cells with tough cell walls behave like glass filled with water. The physics-approved way to say this is that the teeth perform work on the cell and the cell stores that energy as elastic potential energy. When that elastic potential energy is liberated, it is converted into acoustical energy (sound). You might not hear a single cell breaking, but combine hundreds of thousands simultaneous cell walls breaking, and the shatter manifests as a delicious crispness.

The same thing is true with chips. Instead of water within cells, it has tiny pockets filled with air surrounded by hardened structures (starch, protein). When the surrounding structure snaps between your teeth and the air releases, you get your crunch.

Crispness and crunchiness are two different things — crispness is defined by a high-pitched release sound, while crunchiness lies in the lower pitch ranges. So an apple is crisp, while an almond is crunchy, and Pop Rocks ‘crackle’ or ‘pop’ on your tongue.

Along with taste and smell, the sound of food also indicates whether it’s good to eat or not. A salad with crisp lettuce is far superior to one with limp and soggy leaves. This is of evolutionary importance. Decaying food has already fed bacteria and fungi, causing the cells to leak out their water or become flaccid, like a deflated balloon. That mushy, soft feeling is an indicator of spoilage. Over time, our ancestors associates all the different changes in taste, smell, texture, colour and sound with decay.

We don’t know the neurologically mechanisms that underline this pleasure we get from loud food, but it’s impossible to deny!


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