That Satisfying Crunch

As I was walking to class earlier today, I couldn't help but step a little out of my way to hear that satisfying crunch as I stepped on a fallen leaf. It made me think. What is it about crunchiness that we love? Why is that crunch so satisfying?
Well I did some searching online, and although I couldn't find any scientific reasoning as to why some people like crunchy leaves (besides sheer joy and amusement), I did find explanations as to why people like crunchy foods. 

Have you ever noticed how at a fast-food restaurant, they pay special attention to advertising how "crispy" their fries are? What about a fried-chicken place? It's not considered good unless it is crispy. Let's face it: no one wants soggy fried chicken. And imagine eating an apple that is not crisp and juicy, but instead soft on the inside? Doesn't sound very appealing, does it? I mean, without the crunchiness, potato chips would just be floppy cuts of potato. Not appetizing at all. Advertisements such as this Pringles commercial often use crunchiness as an advertising technique because they know that's what people look for.
Although there have not been any studies regarding this topic, there are various explanations as to why we like crunchy foods. Is it because of our ancestors? Is it caused by associations with being cooked? Or is it just simply because it just sounds good? I found several articles on the topic, and  they all had different explanations as to why humans like crunchy foods. A few of them pointed back to a book written on the subject by a research scientist at the University of Southern California named John S. Allen. He's the author of a book called The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship With Food. This article explains his notion that it is because of our primate history that we find crunchy foods so delectable. A quick survey of the diets of primates shows that many of them eat bugs pretty enthusiastically. In fact, primates living 50 million years ago may have been predominantly insect eaters, and many human cultures still consume insects today (yes, not everyone conforms to the Western style choice of food that we consider normal). And as you can imagine, biting into a grasshopper or beetle would offer quite the crunch. In fact in India, many street vendors sell grasshoppers (fried of course, for that extra crispy crunch). Could it be that we like crispy foods because our ancestors ate crispy insects? According to John S. Allen, it is possible. This would suggest that our appeal toward crispy food is ancient and cognitively deep-seated. 

Then there's the other possibilities. This article lists the rest of them. Perhaps our crunchy food craze comes from cooking. When cooking rolled around in our history, dietary conditions changed drastically. Cooking caused the nutrients in meat and certain plant foods, such as tubers, more available to us and more palatable as well (shout out to the Maillard reaction!!). Thus, our ancestors who liked crispy foods may have done better in the reproductive sweepstakes, since cooking allowed better access to a whole range of high-quality foods in multiple different environments. And so, because of natural selection, we may have an attraction toward crispier foods.

Another explanation that the article gives is that we simply like the sound that crunchy food makes. I could be very possible that because crunchiness incorporates hearing into the sensory mix of eating, we are less likely to become bored of the food we are eating. The stronger and more varied sensory mix crunchiness provides staves off boredom and habituation. When you go to a gourmet restaurant, they provide you with different courses that contain different textures and tastes. Why? So you don't get bored. According to the article, crispy foods may prevent that boredom. 

These are all of course simply speculations that have yet to be scientifically tested. They all seem like pretty plausible theories, and I'm sure there are more out there. For example, could it be that we like crispy foods because it feels good to be bad? Crispy foods nowadays are associated with unhealthy foods (deep-fried, yet delicious). Could it be that we like the little feeling of rebellion as we bite into a potato chip or a golden-brown french fry? Who knows? Could it be that one of these theories is only correct, or could it be a combination of all of them, plus more? If you guys find any further scientific research on this, let me know! Until then, I'll just have fun stepping on crunchy leaves on my way to class. 


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