The difference between crispy and crunchy

There are some words that food writers avoid, whether because people tend to have strong opinions about them (like moist), because they are overused , or because their meanings aren’t clear. For food writer Maggie Hennessy, two adjectives give her pause for the last reason. Hennessy says she is confounded by the differences between crispy and crunchy.

Both terms imply a food that has a defined, hard texture but there are nuances that can obscure easy definition. She provides several examples of foods where it might be difficult to determine the contours of which of the two adjectives fits the snap, crush, crust, or flake of the food item. She dives into the etymology of the two words, and explains that she is not the only one who has struggled with the definition: in 2013, a group of scientists wrote a research paper that sought to standardize the definitions for the two words.

Over the years, Hennessy says she has created a set of rules to separate the two terms. “Crispy things are usually fragile, airier, and drier,” she says, noting that she reserves the word crunchy “for more intense crushing, and wetter, hard, or dense foods, like carrots, almonds, and thick kettle-cooked chips.” I found that interesting because I would say that kettle chips are crispy rather than crunchy, but I suppose that proves the point that these definitions can be tricky.

Recipe writers choose their own definitions, as we can see in the EYB Library, where there are 1,136 online recipes with ‘crunchy’ as part of the recipe, and over 3,200 online recipes featuring the word ‘crispy’. The terms are often used to describe the same foods, such as Sweet roasted courgettes with crispy chickpeas and Crunchy spiced roasted chickpeas (pictured above). So are chickpeas crispy or crunchy? Only one thing is certain: if you are expecting a food to be either crispy or crunchy and it is soggy or mushy, you are going to be disappointed.

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  • dhogue  on  September 25, 2021

    I never really thought too deeply about the difference between crispy and crunchy (or “crispity and crunchity” as Nestle would say…), but seeing these examples and how other people think about it, perhaps we can learn from materials science where they use the factors strength, rigidity, and hardness.

    Strong materials resist permanent deformation or complete breakage under stress. (They may bend, but can return to their original state without damage.)

    Rigid materials (also called stiffness) is a measure of elasticity, and represents a material’s resistance to permanent deformation. Rigid materials resist bending.

    Hardness is a material’s resistance to surface deformation. Hardness is measured by the force required to leave an indented mark upon the surface of the material. (Hard materials may be brittle – they resist surface deformation, but may break and shatter. Diamonds are both very hard AND brittle – you cannot easily scratch the surface, but you can shatter it into dust with blunt force.)

    Luckily, none of our food is extremely hard – nearly all food might considered “soft” because we can bite through it – but some foods are stronger than others (crunchy?), and some foods are more brittle than others (crispy?)

    • Darcie  on  September 30, 2021

      I like the concept of applying materials science and agree that brittle=crispy and strength=crunchy.

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