Doritos Jacked and What It Means to Be a Crunchy Chip

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[Photographs: Daniel Souza]

I thought this was going to be an easy review. Doritos Jacked are too big to easily fit in my (arguably large) mouth (see above image for size comparison), feature far more seasoning...

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than their classic cousins...

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...and are also noticeably thicker in profile.

They're the clumsy, overeager, chubby younger brother of the Doritos family: they want so badly to hang out in your mouth, but they're just not cool enough. Post complete! (Hit publish. "Make it rain" chips onto bed. Roll in chips while laughing and reveling in job well done.)

Or so it would have been if I didn't have this pesky question rolling around my head: what does a thicker chip really mean in terms of eating qualities? Well, according to one of my roommates, Jacked chips are crispier than classic ones. My other roommate's opinion? They're crunchier. As I watched my roommates heatedly debate chip texture through orange-stained lips, it dawned at me that the only way to get to the bottom of the issue was to eliminate subjective human interpretation.

I would (wait for it) run an experiment!

Independently, I suspended a Nacho Cheese and Jacked Dorito between two Dixie cups arranged on my kitchen scale and pressed each with my thumb until the chip broke.

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The Nacho Cheese fellas (left), on average, broke at about 11 ounces of force, while their Jacked bros (right) withstood almost at a pound more. Great, there was my answer. Post complete! (Submit. Make rain. Roll.)

But wait, what did this pseudo-scientific experiment actually prove about texture? Well, as it turned out, I had no idea; I'm not a material scientist. But my friend Hootan Farhat is, so I asked him. I learned that I'd essentially performed an uncontrolled version of the three point flexural test used to determine things like brittleness, deformation qualities, and the flexural modulus in a variety of materials. Go me! However, sans controls and far more detailed measurement I could draw little conclusion from the data. Poor me!

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Farhat said I shouldn't feel too bad, because even with accurate data from the three point flexural tests, I'd be hard pressed to conclude whether the chips were crispy or crunchy. In truth, scientists have grappled with this distinction for decades, and it's pretty complicated stuff.

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Farhat sent me a summary of crispiness studies beginning in the 1950's and continuing to present day that used a huge range of techniques. Early methods were often as rudimentary as having participants bite pieces of biscuit with their molars while noting the rate of breakdown into smaller pieces, while present-day work relies on a combination of sophisticated machinery, expert sensory tasting panels, and rigorous mathematical analysis. But the really interesting studies? Sound and vibration analysis.

When you bite into something, it produces a unique sound. TIC Gums, a Maryland based company that's sold water soluble gums and resins since 1909, took this knowledge and created a Crunch Prints Library, "a sound library of MP3 recordings of the chewing experience of foods and a visual representation of the decibel level of each." The reason they made it? Because "describing the characteristics of the crunch can be difficult".

So does this all mean that, barring computer assistance or high-tech machines, simple humans like us can't reliably suss out the difference between crispy and crunchy? Of course not. In the end, most of the sound studies conclude that recognizing changes in pitch is key to categorizing differences in texture. Crispy foods produce a higher pitch sound when we bite them than do crunchy foods. Back to the chips I went, and sure enough, Doritos Jacked snap at a noticeably lower register.

Doritos Jacked? Crunchy. Classic Doritos? Crispy. Me? Rolling in some chips.

About the author: Dan is an associate editor of Cook's Illustrated and an on-screen test cook for America's Test Kitchen. Dan cut his culinary teeth as a young apprentice in rural Hungary, and has the paprika-stained gut to prove it. He likes food, he likes science, and he likes you. Follow him on Twitter @testcook.

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