Consumer product. A baked or deep-fried food product (e.g., cookies, crackers, and Fritos®) designed to mimic the taste and crunchy texture of roasted nuts, seeds, or fruits (in the latter case, e.g., stalks of the cashew plant).
Usage. As primates, we are seemingly pre-adapted to enjoy the flavor and texture of nut substitutes. Throughout the Middle East, e.g., crusty breads, pastries, and candies are liberally sprinkled or covered with whole seeds for their flavor, texture, and crunch. Papodams, tortilla chips, and CrackerjacksÂ®--along with taro, yucca, sweet-potato, beet, parsnip, carrot, rutabaga, celery-root, and seaweed chips--are among the thousands of ethnic cuisines designed to satisfy our need for culinary snap, crackle, and pop.
Big crunch. The largest potato chip manufactured by Homo sapiens--nearly two feet across--was made in 1990 of potato flour at the Pringles plant in Jackson, Tennessee. Consumers, however, prefer smaller chips which have the look and feel of finger food. As primates, we are natural finger-feeders who enjoy bringing edibles to our prehensile lips with the sensitive, tactile pads of our hands.
Existential crunch. That crispy snacks so overpower us is because, as an existentialist philosopher might say, they represent an "authentic" form of existence which transcends the desire for softer, "unreal" foods, such as Twinkies®.
Global crunch. The proclivity to commune with our inner-primate self through the tactile medium of grinding is so powerful that, according to the U.S. Snack Food Association, Americans munch an average 21.42 lbs. of chips, popcorn, pretzels, and so on, each year (Hall and Baumann 1994).
Salt craving. A desire for salty snacks (as opposed to, e.g., craving a chocolate bar) may indicate the need for a real meal, according to a study published in the March, 2001 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders (Vol.29, pp. 195-204; the study was led by Dr. Lionel Lafay of INSERM in Villejuif, France).
Neuro-notes. Our back teeth and the forward two-thirds of our tongue receive incoming crunch sensations from nut substitutes through branches of the facial nerve (cranial VII). Like flavor cues, texture cues are processed on two levels: a. consciously in the cerebral cortex andb. unconsciously in the limbic system. As crunching registers in the forebrain, nut substitutes provide a pleasurable snack-food experience.
Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)