Who remembers that game: two images, seemingly identical, side by side? It might as well be the same image reprinted in succession, until you notice that the clocks on each are telling different times, or that there are stripes on one cat but dots on the other. I think it’s called Spot the Difference?
Well, today I present you with a semantic version of that very game. The two contenders, or “images,” in question are two words, two adjectives, that at first glance seem identical, their usages interchangeable: crispy and crunchy.
It would seem that the words are but mere synonyms, and in many ways, they are. But a scientific article in the International Journal of Food Properties, titled “Critical Evaluation of Crispy and Crunchy Textures: A Review”, would beg to differ. Apparently the difference between a crispy food and a crunchy one is real, albeit subtle:
- The journal defines a crispy food as: “a dry rigid food which, when bitten with the incisors [Ed. Note: the four pointy teeth at the front of your mouth], fractures quickly, easily, and totally while emitting a relatively loud, high-pitched sound.”
- While a crunchy food is: “a dense-textured food which, when chewed with the molars, undergoes a series of fractures while emitting relatively loud, low-pitched sounds.”
Hmm, so let’s reach for a few examples, shall we? Crispy is best exemplified by a potato chip, what with its glassy shatter upon first bite (now the British word "crisp" makes a lot more sense). Whereas something like a nut, which you chew with your back teeth, would fall into the crunchy category (e.g., crunchy peanut butter). There are, of course, exceptions. An apple can be both. It’s crispy upon first bite and then crunchy for the remainder of that experience.
Take a minute to assess these differences. Is your world spinning?
Mine was when I first happened upon this colloquial conundrum. For that, I have Brette Warshaw, a writer and friend of Food52, to thank. Warshaw runs a weekly email dispatch called "What's the Difference Between..." in which she parses the sliiiiiight semantic differences between two seemingly similar things (sign up here—it's totally worth it!). Her previous editions explored the differences between: trash and garbage, shrimp and prawns, ponds and lakes.
When I asked her about the process of arriving at this particular topic, she told me: “The way I found out about the study is unfortunately not very exciting… I just googled ‘What's the difference between crispy and crunchy?’ and it came up. I'm usually pretty careful with using reputable sources for the newsletter, so I was obviously thrilled to find something so scientific.”
Well, Brette, thanks for playing. Until next time. Meanwhile, I’ll be eating, crisping, and crunching away over here.
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