Why We Crave Crunchy Food, According To Science

Chips. Crackers. Carrot sticks. Celery. Popcorn. Cereal. Hard candies. Trail mix. All of these are, of course, snacks that pack a punch and are undoubtedly fun to eat! Crunchy foods are among the most favorite edible – and audible – indulgences. As it turns out, there's a real psychological reason why we love these noisy noms so much, and it doesn't only have to do with how they taste. Eating food involves all five senses. And when we eat something with a brittle, crusty, chewy, or crispy texture, our ears play a more prominent role. The rattling that takes place in the inner ear helps people better identify what they are consuming, according to Mental Floss.

So, why do we feel inclined to reach for a bag of pretzels for a quick after-work snack or munch on popcorn during movies? According to a number of scientists who have studied consumer behavior and preferences – particularly when it comes to eating – foods that require a bit of chomping and chewing are often perceived as fresher or better quality. Let's examine this theory a little more closely.

Our brains correlate crunchiness with freshness

Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, neurologist, psychiatrist, and director of the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago, has been studying this area of science for decades. "For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness," Dr. Hirsch told Mental Floss. He calls this phenomenon the "music of mastication," which is basically the auditory stimulus that occurs while we eat.

This principle has also been thoroughly examined by Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and the head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Imagine biting into a potato chip that doesn't make that iconic crackle sound or an apple that doesn't require a forceful bite. You'll more than likely not enjoy the overall experience as much and perhaps assume the batch has gone bad. "Noise doesn't give a benefit in terms of nutrition," Dr. Spence tells Mental Floss. "But we don't like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important." Dr. Spence has conducted many studies over the years to observe how people perceive loud foods. "Noisy foods correlate with freshness," he says. "The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it's retained. It's telling us what's in the food." We crave to hear that sound because it tells our brain we're getting more bang for our buck while eating. Now, if only chips were filled with nutrients!