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J Food Sci. 2015 Sep;80(9):E1988-96. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12971. Epub 2015 Jul 29.

Crunchiness Loss and Moisture Toughening in Puffed Cereals and Snacks.

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Dept. of Food Science, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, 01003, U.S.A.


Upon moisture uptake, dry cellular cereals and snacks loose their brittleness and become soggy. This familiar phenomenon is manifested in smoothing their compressive force-displacement curves. These curves' degree of jaggedness, expressed by their apparent fractal dimension, can serve as an instrumental measure of the particles' crunchiness. The relationship between the apparent fractal dimension and moisture content or water activity has a characteristic sigmoid shape. The relationship between the sensorily perceived crunchiness and moisture also has a sigmoid shape whose inflection point lies at about the same location. The transition between the brittle and soggy states, however, appears sharper in the apparent fractal dimension compared with moisture plot. Less familiar is the observation that at moderate levels of moisture content, while the particles' crunchiness is being lost, their stiffness actually rises, a phenomenon that can be dubbed "moisture toughening." We show this phenomenon in commercial Peanut Butter Crunch® (sweet starch-based cereal), Cheese Balls (salty starch-based snack), and Pork Rind also known as "Chicharon" (salty deep-fried pork skin), 3 crunchy foods that have very different chemical composition. We also show that in the first 2 foods, moisture toughening was perceived sensorily as increased "hardness." We have concluded that the partial plasticization, which caused the brittleness loss, also inhibited failure propagation, which allowed the solid matrix to sustain higher stresses. This can explain other published reports of the phenomenon in different foods and model systems.


brittleness; crispness; failure propagation; glass transition; moisture sorption; plasticization; water activity

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