A shortened summary of John S. Allen’s brilliant 2012 essay explains why we are crazy for crispy:
US celebrity chef, Mario Batali, wrote “The single word ‘crispy’ sells more food than a barrage of adjectives. … There is something innately appealing about crispy food.”
This appeal goes back a long way. Primarily, with the use of insects as fall back foods. And, then, came the momentous shift in human evolutionary history when our ancestors, perhaps more than a million years ago, mastered the use of fire for cooking. This opened a far wider range of new cooked food options. The Maillard reaction that heating enables created foods that were crispy and more intensely flavoured.
Fast forward from these early connections to today’s growing understanding of the habituation of neural sensory systems. The impact of taste and smell on the senses reduces during the meal, but the internal sounds of eating crispy foods add to the experience, slowing the habituation and making for a more enjoyable feast.
A mention too to the influence of spoken language. The word crispy has evolved into an onomatopoeic word; its sound is suggestive of what it is describing. Functional neuroimaging research has shown that merely hearing onomatopoeic words activates the parts of the brain that could become active when experiencing the action. Therefore, the word crispy is a highly evocative and persuasive addition to any menu.
Finally, Allen acknowledges that many modern manufactured crispy foods have been demonised. “But as many of us are aware, doing something bad, as long as it is not too bad, can be pleasurable in and of itself”. Among the many reasons we enjoy crispy foods, maybe it is in our human nature to be a little tempted by a treat!