Oh, and a Frankly Bizarre Question for You to Ponder

Am I wrong with my assumption that, generally speaking, foods described as “crispy” are physically thinner than foods described as “crunchy”? Or is this yet another manifestation of my particular variety of madness?


80 Comments on “Oh, and a Frankly Bizarre Question for You to Ponder”

  1. No, I think you’re right. “Crispy” connotes brittleness; “crunchy” suggests that you have to put some effort into defeating it with your teeth.

  2. Makes sense to me. “Crispy” implies easily coming apart on the tooth, whereas “crunchy” sounds to me like something that needs a bit more work on the part of the chewer.

  3. I’ve always worked under that assumption, as well. Doesn’t mean you’re not crazy – I think we all know the score on that one – but you’re not crazy for thinking “crispy = thin”.

  4. I think you are confusing me with the assumption of the words concerning consumption. As to wit (at least I HOPE it’s wit) Potato Chips are both called crispy and crunchy. And crispy chicken has a crunchy coating. So I believe crispy is more of a description. Or is crunchy more of a description? I guess I’ll have chicken and chips for lunch and then decide.

  5. I think the individual parts of “crispy” foods are thinner than the layers of “crunchy”. This doesn’t make a difference for most foods, but it comes into play for layered crispy foods like KitKat bars.

  6. Is this one of those questions you ask when you’re sitting with an interviewer and you want to prove your power over us and we respond with 300 answers in 20 seconds? Is it? Is it?

    Well… I never thought about it… Crispy chicken is definitely thicker than crunchy chips, right?

  7. I think your conjecture re: the relative construction of crispy vs. crunchy consumables is categorically correct. Could we converse now about chewy vs. crusty vs. crumbly?

  8. I believe your variety of madness is called “thinking about words for a living”, also known as “being a writer”, a madness I have in the “amateur” level.

    I’m not weighting into the central point since english is not my 1st language and I don’t know the subtleties of the vocabulary that well.

  9. You’re on the right track.

    Crispy is a surface attribute. Crunchy is a volume attribute. To be crunchy, an object must have appreciable volume, and that volume must generate white noise when bitten.

    Chips are all surface, which is why they’re crispy, not crunchy. Granola bars are crunchy because you generate sound through the volume of the bite. However, fried egg rolls (I just had some for lunch), despite their volume, are crispy, because the bite-generated-audio only occurs at the surface.

  10. I think you’re on to something. Crisp does rhyme with whisp, implying thinness. Also, chips, which at thin and can be burnt to a crisp are called crisps over the pond. Hmmmmm… but bacon can be described as both. Hmmmmm….

  11. I think Chang of Space Command is onto something.
    Next time Scalzi posts some random thought provoking thing like this we should all abstain from posting.
    We should leave a hole in Whatever.

  12. Is this another bacon topic in disguise?

    My belief is that crunchiness refers to brittleness usually throughout the entirety of the item and one that requires some noticeable tooth-travel when biting through it. Whereas crispness generally refers to a brittle thin layer – which could be the entire item (chips), a surface layer, or perhaps the entire item if it is composed of thin brittle layers (some pastries).

    The only exceptions I know of where something is both crisp and thick are some stemmed vegetables like celery. Another outlier is perhaps crunchy peanut butter; crispy peanut butter just doesn’t seem healthy.

    At least that drawer in the refrigerator labeled Crisper Drawer sounds a lot more appetizing than say a Crunchy Drawer.

  13. Well, I wouldn’t say that either peanut brittle or granola are crispy, though they’re both rather crunchy. And nobody calls potato chips crunchy, but everybody calls them crispy (anybody not American even calls them potato crisps), so yes, I’d say you have made a valid observation. Now, bacon gets called both crispy and crunchy – I think because its thickness varies, and also because it tends to have a certain elasticity that extends the chewing time just a bit, especially if it hasn’t been blackened. Bacon really sits on the dividing line.

  14. @htom #5 is pretty close. Crispy things snap across a more delineated line into few pieces, whereas crunchy things break into uncountably many mini pieces and compact because there are hollow spaces.

    The truth of John’s hypothesis is a result of the above, because it is easier for thin things to be crispy. The dividing line is thin (ha ha): Potato chips are crispy, pita chips are crunchy.

    The pretty expensive marble kitchen countertop I leaned against the garage door, which my wife subsequently opened from the other side, was pretty crispy, I must say.

  15. I agree with the assessment of thickness being the real difference between crunch and crispy.

    Put more simply: crunchy = crispy + chunky.

  16. @Sihaya #21 Good example for #5. It’s crispy when bitten or broken, and crunchy when chewed.

  17. @#14: Very astute.

    I’m glad we have two words that don’t mean exactly the same thing. It makes language more nuanced. Don’t jinx it!

    Can we do something about words that have come to have two opposing meanings? Words like raveled, comprise, and nauseous?

  18. tiberius, that’s an excellent point. I tend to do both – bite off a piece, then crunch it with the back teeth. And it still makes a crunching sound for quite a while. A bite of lettuce, on the other hand, snaps when I bite into it, but is entirely quiet afterwards.

  19. Something crispy tends to have air bubbles in it, like rice crispies or the crispy center of crispy M&Ms which, by the way, I am still upset about being discontinued.

  20. Apple crisp, anyone? The name refers to the topping, which is thin, but in eating the dish as a whole, is merely a layer on a generally thick substance. Which in the end is more of a crumble. Arg!

  21. Crisp is equivalent to brittle, while crunch means to crush or grind (esp. w/ teeth), according to my dictionary. The word “crunchy” seems to be a commercial derivation of the word “crunchiness,” i.e. characterized by crunch. So, crispy chicken has a brittle coating that is characterized by crushing or grinding with teeth.

    Back in college, we used to call a certain variety of shallowly ideological Christian “Jesus Crispies,” and a certain variety of unwashed, pseudo-socialist, neo-Hippy “Crunchies.” In retrospect, we were right on target: the former was brittle, and sharp-edged when stressed; the latter made you grind your teeth.

  22. You’re not wrong.

    Or we share that particular variety of madness.

    Either way, I’m good with it.

  23. I am wondering if it is possible to start with bacon from the same package and fry it up either crispy or crunchy. If so, to get crunchy bacon, I would cook it longer, which would mean that it would have more fat cooked out of it, and be marginally thinner than the crispy bacon.

  24. @15 and 30,

    “crisp” and “crispy” are not equivalent. An apple may be crisp, but no one would ever say an apple is crispy. (It is weird, but what can you do.)

  25. I think of veggies when I think crisp or crunchy or maybe it’s just that it makes me think fresh. Somehow, the thought of bacon doesn’t pop into my head.

  26. I think just about everyone here has this wrong. Crunchy describes the SOUND something makes – it is onomatopoeic. Crispy denotes a physical attribute. Hence, you can have crispy pizza, but it does not sound crunchy. This also why you can have a potato chip that is both crispy AND crunchy. Let’s take this out of the food realm. “John was taking a walk and the leaves were crunching under his feet.” Leaves are crunchy because of the noise they make. A pressed shirt is “crisp” but is never crunchy – unless it makes a sound.

  27. @#33 Daniel:

    LOL. I would never say an apple is crisp. In my idiom, apples are crunchy or juicy (if good). A crisp is crispy, though!

  28. I think of crispy things as those that shatter with little effort like puffed rice, thin cut potato chips, or well cooked bacon. What I think of as crunchy breaks into larger chunks, requiring more effort, like granola, popcorn, or apples.
    There are some that are harder to categorize, for instance the outer layer of a good hot dog. It gives a crisp snap when bitten into, but it does not shatter as most things I consider crispy do, and I would not call it crunchy… hmmm.

  29. A follow up to my prior and a more direct answer to your question. Yes, something that is crispy must be relatively thin. Crisp denotes a physical characteristic whereby something snaps in two fairly easily. Something that is crunchy simply makes a crunching sound – and it can be any thickness. Gravel is crunchy but it certainly is not crispy. So, yes, all things that are crispy (as a class of objects) are thinner than all things that are crunchy (as a class of objects). And I think my college editing teacher, Professor Bremner, would be quite proud of my answer.

  30. The words them selves give you the clues. Crispy is derived from the latin crispus meaning curled or wrinkled, but has been an synonym for brittle in english since the 16th century. Crunch, derived from craunch, is almost an example of onomatopoeia…relating more to the sound made, a grinding, crushing noise.

    So crisp is a property of the structure of the item (e.g. brittle). And Crunch relates to the noise it makes while chewed. So in theory something could be both crispy and crunchy at the same time. Cheeto’s come to mind.

  31. But what of Cheetos? They’re sold in two versions – ‘Crispy’ and ‘Crunchy’. While this seems to indicate fried versus baked, they are, in essence the same thickness, same ingredients. Assuming that this is not merely marketing hype designed to get the masses to buy a bag of each in order to conduct their own scientific tests at home, how can this be?

  32. @Matthew E +1 for “defeating it with your teeth”

    I have to jot that down in my notebook…

  33. Casey said exactly what I was going to say, and probably said it better.

    Oh, except that one must not mistake ‘crisp’ for ‘crispy’. Celery can be crisp, and should be, but oughtn’t (IMO) be crispy. In fact ‘crispy celery’ sounds like it has to be deep fried (yuck). ‘Crisp vegetables’ are just vegetables in an optimum non-wilted state; ‘crispy vegetables’ implies tempura (at least).

    And now I see that Daniel said that. I think my para above adds to what he said, though, so I’m leaving it.

  34. I don’t know about crunchy, but in my experience, all thin food items are labeled “crispy”, even if they’re actually kind of chewy.

  35. GVDub, I was once present when my friend Karl was trying to describe which of the three kinds of Cheetos he wanted, to my friend Stuart, who was not getting it. Karl wanted the baked puff kind, the ones that look like twisted cylinders with rounded ends. He did not want the shriveled little stringy ones or the spherical ones in a can (not sure they make those any more). It was pretty late at night when this snack run was about to happen, and everyone’s descriptive and interpretive powers were somewhat limited. Finally I spoke up.

    “He wants the puffy wuffies,” I said, “not the bally-wallies or the wormy-squirmies.”

    Without looking at me, Karl said to Stuart, “No bally-wallies, no wormy-squirmies.” And Stuart was enlightened, and returned with the appropriate form of Cheetos; and there was much rejoicing.

  36. It can’t be thinness that makes crispy – after all, hard taco shells are thin and always called “crunchy” tacos. Perhaps “crispy” tends to go with foods having more substance to them and “cruchy” goes with foods having less nutritional substance (such as crunchy taco bell tacos)

  37. It’s all in the shatter pattern. Crunchy snow compresses under pressure crispy snow falls from pressure.

  38. Randall, I don’t think taco shells are thin enough to be crispy. YMMV, of course, but I think of tortilla chips as crunchy but potato chips as crispy.

  39. If that’s so then we share the same madness. Criispy, in my mind, is associated with thin. From potato chips to thin crust pizza, that’s the word which fits for me. Crunchy has a body to it, like a hoagie made with fresh sourdough rolls. I think it’s time to visit my local sammich place for a meal.

  40. I would propose that all rationale based on the use of the words by marketing professionals be discarded as suspect. They have a long history of warping the use of a word to denote something only tangentially related to the original word. I offer the cases of “Tasty,” “Nutritious,” “Cosy,” “Comfortable,” and “View of the Water/Mountains” for your consideration.

    Crunch and crunchy do seem to be relatively simple. They are onomatopoeias. Their mention caused me to reach for a bag of granola-nut mix.

    Crisp and crispy, on the other hand, as mentioned earlier are not necessarily the same, and crisp actually has quite a diverse range of meanings. Crisp air, crisp shirt, and crisp cookie use different versions of “crisp.”

    I am enjoying the fruits of this logistical puzzle, however, of how to summarize briefly the difference. Bravo, commentors!

  41. I’m not sure it makes any difference at all around here… down south that is. Crispy, Crunchy… makes no difference for most of the stuff I bite into.

  42. One thing I have noticed is that crispy foods are deep fried, while crunchy foods can be baked instead. This Baked Lays are crunchy.

    Also crispy foods tend to be “light” and airy. Crunchy foods tend to be more substantial.

  43. CRUNCH – The sound of Batman’s crisp punch making contact with the henchman’s nose. But this conversation is about “crispy” and “crunchy”…

  44. Crisp is the texture of the skin after it has been baked or set on fire, crunch is the noise and feeling of the bone when you hit it with a sledge hammer.

  45. I had to deal with this in an ESL lesson I used to teach – our textbook showed a picture of an apple with “crispy,” and I was annoyed enough that I had to explain the difference between “crispy” and “crunchy” every single time I did the activity. It annoyed the hell out of me. So yes, I agree with your analysis of it.

  46. Actually, I think I change my mind. We seem to have an intuitive understanding of what is crispy and what is crunchy. Why is that? There must be a deeper aspect that our brains are evaluating at a deep level.

    It’s the *tone* of the sound, that’s all. Crispy is high-pitched. Crunchy is lower. Yes, all the various aspects we’ve broken down above are correlated to the assessment, but the root reason is the sound. I’m sure that the threshold frequency could be identified in a lab.

    This also neatly resolves the Celery Paradox. Snapping a stick of celery makes a light snap, making it “crispy” in that context. Chomping a stick of celery makes a lower sound, due to both bone conduction and oral acoustics. Hence celery is “crunchy” in that case.

  47. I believe #5htom said it best.

    Apples are crispy. Those can hardly be called thin. And yet when you turn them into chips, they become crunchy.

    Incisors = crispy / molars = crunchy.

  48. The word derivates from the Latin “crispus” (no, I’m not making that up). Early in the 16th century, it came to take on the connotation of brittleness. As things age and dehydrate, they tend to curl up (and get brittle), so I assume that something gets “crispy” due to dehydration. When you fry up thinly sliced potatoes, they lose their moisture and become crisps (they also curl up some).

    “Crunch” is an onomatopoeia of the sound one makes when biting down on something that is not soft. It’s a much newer word (19th century) and the adjective is likely even newer. The nouns are not at all alike (crunch being a sound and crisp being a potato chip), but I suspect there is quite a bit of semantic overlap between the adjectives.

    On a personal note, I tend to think of a crispy foods as making a higher pitched noise than would a crunch, which would have more bass.

  49. #68 In fact, my version of the Oxford English dictionary has the entry:

    Crunchy, from the Anglo Saxon crunchy, Norman French crunchy, pronounced crunchy, spelt crunchy, meaning … crunchy.

    So in English, at any rate, crunchy is older than crispy.


  50. Thickness is not germane to crispiness or crunchiness. Observe the phrase “Crispy crunchy Christ.” The only occasion during which people consume Christ is the ritual of transubstantiation, where the wafer is, appropriately, wafer-thin as the mints fed to Mr. Creosote. Regardless of the thinness of the wafer, the Christ in question remains crunchy.

    ((I have a bad premonition of impending esprit d’escalier…this joke *is* strong enough to stand on its own, right? Right?))

  51. The one exception would be Rice Krispies, which are not necessarily thin, and yet will talk to you if you pour milk on them.

  52. I am now being amused by the concept of “crunchy fall air”. And attempting to imagine what a crunchy shirt would be like.

    And I agree with Xopher: an apple can be crisp, but not crispy, unless you shaved it into paper-thin slices and either fried it or dehydrated it.

  53. I general I think crunchy, when describing food, denotes a sound. You are spot on about crispy though, crispy equals and brittle. Not all thin things are crispy. Could you imagine? “Wow that woman is crispy!” Probably wouldn’t go over so well.

  54. Am I wrong with my assumption that, generally speaking, foods described as “crispy” are physically thinner than foods described as “crunchy”?
    You are correct.

    Or is this yet another manifestation of my particular variety of madness?
    No. Raising the question is another manifestation of my particular variety of madness.

  55. In many languages, front vowels (more like the vowel in crisp) sound “bigger” in some sense than back vowels (the one in crunch is a back vowel. Mark Liberman at Language Log quotes an article by Daniel Gilbert:

    “Because of the acoustic properties of our vocal apparatus, some words just sound bigger than others. The back vowels (the “u” in buck) sound bigger than the front vowels (the “i” in sis), and the stops (the “b” in buck) sound bigger than the fricatives (the “s” in sis). As it turns out, in well over 100 languages, the words that denote bigness are made with bigger sounds.”

    The post is at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2729

  56. I love that this thread has had more comments than the trolling post, Scalzi’s new novel, or pop music. You people are total geeks, and I adore each and every one of you.

    Also, in re derivation, my dictionary shows crisp from “crispi”, middle English, 1300-1350; crunch(-y) is from “craunch,” 1795-1805, imitative (?).

    I am thinking that there may be no such thing as a single, definitive (ha!) source, and that perhaps the dictionary folks are just making stuff up.

  57. I was going to say that I think crispy things tend to be less dense than crunchy things, whether thin or not, but I also like #64’s explanation regarding the pitch of the sound…

  58. I have had crispy bacon and crunchy bacon
    and its the same thickness of bacon!
    my head! where are my crayons? I need a nap.

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