Fight your way down the snack aisle of any American supermarket and the obsession with crunch is manifest—in fact, it's a global obsession. The ratios of sugar, salt, and fat may vary, but crunch prevails. One theory about the ascendancy of crunch concerns evolution. Crispy-crunchy texture often signals freshness in fruits and vegetables, and, one supposes, in bugs. But the obvious fact is this: Crunch rings a gong in our brains very near to our deepest food-pleasure centers. We all crave crunch. The conundrum was this: Could we make favorite crunchy foods healthier, with less fat and sugar?
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We started out by devising a crunch-o-meter against which to measure our foods, then got cooking. It was crunch time in our Test Kitchen. We had a little fun putting our list of crunchiest foods to the test. The somewhat surprising results appear in the diagram to the left. The crunchiest of the crunchy was hard candies such as peppermints (9).
9. Toffee, Jolly Ranchers, Starlight peppermints 8. Corn Nuts! 7. Wasabi peas, the hard edges of melba toast, Grape Nuts cereal, thick hard pretzels 6. Carrots, celery, bell peppers 5. Toasted whole almonds, Stacy's pita chips 4. Superfresh radishes, the crunchiest pickles 3. Biscotti (except the hard-as-concrete kind), Captain Crunch, Kettle chips 2. Water crackers and thin tortilla chips, such as Xochitl brand 1. Graham crackers
Salmon skin cooks to a remarkably crisp exterior that's contrasted by buttery flesh beneath.
4 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Crispy Pork Spring Rolls
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 3
No surprise, deep-frying is one of the best mediums for creating crunchy texture. It may seem off-limits in the pursuit of healthy crunch, but it's not. (For more on our techniques for healthy frying, check out our step-by-step
5 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 3.5
Kenji Lopez-Alt, chief creative officer and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science at
6 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Tah Dig (Persian Rice)
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 4
Many rice cultures have crunchy-rice dishes. In the Korean dish bibimbap, rice develops a treasured crust in a hot stone bowl. In Persian cooking, partially cooked rice is drained and cooked in a dry pan with butter and oil, forming a gorgeous, golden crust.
7 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Sugar-Crusted Pork Cabbage Wraps
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 6
Roasted pork tenderloin is shredded and pan-fried to produce crisp bits on the outside. Tuck these pork nuggets into cabbage leaves, and top with lots of sliced green onions and cucumber to heighten the overall crunchy experience.
8 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Celery Apple Salad
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 6.5
Here, crunch derives from ingredients rather than technique. Apples get the noise going, while celery, one of the loudest vegetables on earth, makes this a fresh festival of crunchy goodness.
9 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Cracker-Crust Mushroom Pizza
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 7
We set out to maximize the crunch with a crust that basically shatters, deliciously. A small amount of yeast, a thin roll of the dough, and high-heat cooking nailed it. Minimalist toppings prevent sogging, but the center of the pizza still softens to the 3 to 4 range on the crunch-o-meter.
10 of 11Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi
Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 8
Low and slow is the key to drawing out all of the moisture without burning the chickpeas or seasoning. As they cook, the spices mingle and mellow for a rounded flavor.
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Crunch-O-Meter Rating: 9
Cooking sugar above 300° ensures it'll harden as it cools. For crisp toffee, spread it thin; for crunch, go thick.