4 Reasons Why We Love Crunchy Food, According to the Experts
We eat with our eyes, but we snack with our ears. Hear us out: The snap of a carrot stick. The chomp of a pita chip. The crackle of an ice cream pop that is enrobed in chocolate. Research shows that not only is the sound of crunch appealing, but also it can have a real impact on our eating experience.
To get to the bottom of how (and why) crunch flips a metaphorical switch in our brains when it comes to food, we went to the experts. Read on for four science-backed reasons why we’re drawn to crunchy foods.
1. Crunch screams fresh!
Blame it on biology. Back when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, they couldn’t just check a food’s expiration date. Instead, they had to rely on other clues to decide if the item was fresh. “Noisy fruit and vegetables signal a fresher product, and fresher products are likely to have retained more of their nutrients,” explains Charles Spence, Ph.D., professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, in England.
The same idea applies to foods beyond produce: In a 2005 study, Spence found that people perceived potato chips as fresher when they heard a louder sound after biting into them. When that sound was less intense, the chip earned a softer and staler rating. In reality, everyone was biting into the same type of chip from the same package. And no matter if it’s true or not, even thinking you’re eating a stale chip is a major letdown.
Ladies, Let’s Make Some Noise
Evolution isn’t the only thing that has crunch on our minds. A 2015 study in the Journal of Texture Studies found that men were more likely to comment on a food’s appearance, while women called out the texture. And while society might have you worried about being too loud, too big, or generally too much, we say crunch away!
2. More crunch = more satisfaction
Have you ever tried to quietly eat a bag of chips? Probably wasn’t a success. Crunchy food requires more chewing, plain and simple. But before you think of it as a jaw workout or a one-way ticket out of the quiet car, that extra gnashing can actually be a good thing.
Chewing fires up signals between the belly and the brain, explains registered dietitian Angela Goscilo, M.S., R.D., senior nutrition manager at WW: “The very act of chewing stimulates satisfaction and fullness.” This is part of the reason why fruit and veggies on your ZeroPoint™ foods list have Points® in smoothies or juices. Research shows that liquids don’t promote the same feeling of fullness as solid food. So if you’re looking for a bite to take you from your 3 p.m. slump to dinnertime, try adding lots of crunch to your midday snack stash.
3. Crunchiness can help make mindful eating easier
If it seems like everyone is talking about mindfulness these days, you’re right—and it’s for good reason. There's a real benefit to being present and aware of your habits in all parts of your life, including when you’re eating.
How does crunch help? “The sound helps draw our attention to what’s going on in our mouth, so we’re more aware of the other food sensations, like taste,” Spence explains. Say you’re eating a piece of peanut brittle; as you notice the crunch of each bite, you might also start to notice the rich flavours and different textures. So if you're struggling to practice mindful eating, try it with a food that’s, well, a little noisy—use each crunch as a cue to pause and savour the bite.
And, no, it’s not just about eating slower. (Although that does give those “I’m full” satisfaction signals we talked about earlier more time to travel from your body to your brain.) Eating with heightened awareness can help you enjoy your food and feel more satisfied, better supporting your weight-loss journey: Research shows that mindful eaters tend to eat less than those who are distracted, and the practice can help prevent episodes of overeating.
4. The word “crunch” on a menu or packaging signals yum
Pop quiz: Would you rather have crunchy pickles or small cucumbers preserved in vinegar? Chances are you’d opt for the first one—even though they’re the exact same thing.
Words have a way to cue external hunger (i.e., the type that’s based on factors other than our body’s need for fuel), which is why so many menus include carefully crafted descriptions that make your mouth water. Research shows that when we’re presented with language that taps into our senses or nostalgia, we think we’ll like the food more.
When it comes to crunch, simply reading the word before you dig into a certain food can impact how much you enjoy eating it, according to a 2019 study in Appetite. Researchers found that people enjoyed food more when its crunchiness was front and center on its packaging or in its advertising—even if the taste itself remained the same.