The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods

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iStock

A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.

 
 

The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag
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For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”

 
 

All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips
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Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.

 
 

According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip
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But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

25 Iconic Hamburger Spots You Have to Visit

Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0
Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Hamburgers are ubiquitous on menus across the country, but not all restaurants treat burgers with the reverence they deserve. Whether you prefer simple beef patties, loaded bacon cheeseburgers, or plant-based veggie burgers, we've got something for you. From historic fast-food joints to fancy eateries, check out these 25 iconic hamburger spots you have to visit.

1. H&F Burger // Atlanta, Georgia

cheeseburger at H&F Burger
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Originally, the H&F Burger was a special at Atlanta gastropub Holeman and Finch, served only after 10 p.m. Because the kitchen only made two dozen of the burgers each night, just a few customers got the chance to sink their teeth into the juicy, buttery burgers. Today, though, burger lovers can order the H&F Burger—two beef patties with American cheese, red onions, and house-made pickles and ketchup—any time of day at its own Ponce City Market location, without worrying about the kitchen running out of grub.

2. Amy's Drive Thru // Rohnert Park, California

Amy's Drive Thru
Tony Webster, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Located north of San Francisco near the 101 Freeway, Amy's Drive Thru serves organic, vegetarian fast food from scratch. Opened in 2015 by the owners of natural foods company Amy's Kitchen, the drive-through has quickly become one of the most popular spots for veggie burgers. Try 'The Amy,' a double veggie patty with cheese and secret sauce, and wash it down with an organic chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry milkshake.

3. The Oldest McDonald's // Downey, California

Photo of the original McDonald's location in Downey, California.
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Even burger elitists can’t deny the impact that McDonald's has had on the international fast food scene. Located in Southern California, the oldest surviving McDonald's opened in the summer of 1953, almost a decade before Ray Kroc bought the company from the McDonald brothers. Because this location remained an independent restaurant until 1990, when Kroc finally acquired it, its exterior looks slightly different than a regular McDonald's (for example, there's only a single golden arch rather than the instantly recognizable double Golden Arches). But in terms of food, customers can order typical McDonald’s burgers and fries, as well as a deep-fried (rather than baked) apple pie. The store also has an impressive collection of McDonald’s ads, toys, and other memorabilia.

4. Shake Shack // New York City

Burgers at Shake Shack in New York City
Lucas Richards, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you've walked through New York City's Madison Square Park, you've no doubt noticed the long line of people waiting for burgers and frozen custard. In the early aughts, restaurateur Danny Meyer served hot dogs from a cart in the park before morphing his business into Shake Shack in 2004. Today, there are over 100 Shake Shack locations around the world, and hungry customers enjoy chomping down on the ShackBurger, a 100 percent all-natural Angus beef burger (sans hormones and antibiotics) on a non-GMO potato roll. Vegetarians usually order the 'Shroom Burger, an impressive heaping of portobello mushroom with melted cheddar and Muenster.

5. Jim's Drive In // Lewisburg, West Virginia

a cheeseburger with ranch dressing
iStock/prapassong

At Jim's Drive In, the no-frills décor and simple food facilitate time travel, as you step back to a simpler era when curb-side service and drive-in movies were common. Located on Route 60, the restaurant has satisfied West Virginians' stomachs and taste buds since the early 1950s. Today, you can order a variety of burgers such as the bacon cheeseburger, pizza burger, or Famous Ranch Burger.

6. Town Topic // Kansas City, Missouri

Town Topic Hamburgers in Kansas City, Missouri
Chris Murphy, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Back in 1937, Town Topic was a small diner in downtown Kansas City that sold burgers for just a nickel. Today, the restaurant honors its culinary history by making burgers the same way as when they started—beef patties, grilled onions, and steamed buns. And you can order a single hamburger for just shy of three dollars. Still a great deal.

7. The Cherry Cricket // Denver, Colorado

The Cherry Cricket in Denver
Tadson Bussey, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Opened in 1945, The Cherry Cricket has become so legendary that not even a major fire in late 2016 could keep patrons away. After a temporary closure, the burger and beer spot reopened in April 2017, and happy customers could once again order the popular Cricket Burger. No insects are used, fortunately; rather, it's a Black Angus chuck patty masterpiece, complete with bacon, an over-easy egg, American cheese, and sautéed onions. They also have build-your-own options, starting with a beef, turkey, bison, or black bean burger. Toppings include everything from cream cheese or peanut butter to candied bacon and jalapeño jelly.

8. Sid's Diner // El Reno, Oklahoma

Sid's Diner
peggydavis66, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Located outside of Oklahoma City, Sid's Diner is famous for its Fried Onion Burger, a one-pound patty with caramelized onions cooked into the beef. The restaurant is known to make its own spatulas out of brick trowels (which are typically used to lay mortar between bricks). Sid's takes the wedged knife end of the trowel and fuses it to a spatula, allowing chefs to flatten the top of each beef patty and press a handful of thinly sliced Spanish onions down into the meat.

9. Schuberg's Bar // Big Rapids, Michigan

hamburger with onion rings and barbeque sauce
iStock/grandriver

In the late 19th century, Leonard (later renamed Big Rapids) was a town full of lumberjacks, thanks to the plentiful forests. Schuberg's Bar served drinks to the locals, and over a century later, it's now an iconic spot for hamburgers. The original Schu-Burger is a 1/3-pound chargrilled patty, topped with cheese, onion, pickles, green olives, ketchup, and mustard. For a more tangy twist on the Schu-Burger, try the Cowboy Schu, which comes with barbecue sauce and onion rings.

10. The Apple Pan // Los Angeles

The Apple Pan in Los Angeles, California
Larry Gaynor, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Los Angelinos craving authentic diner fare and a taste of old Hollywood head to The Apple Pan in West L.A. Since 1947, the restaurant has served simple hamburgers and classic pies to customers who sit in seats (there are only 26) around the small counter. A favorite of celebrities like Warren Beatty and the Jonas Brothers, The Apple Pan still serves its burgers wrapped in paper.

11. Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar // Southgate, Michigan

At Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar, bigger is always better. Although the restaurant serves regular half-pound burgers, their claim to fame is the 10-Pound Monster Burger. Brave customers who succeed in the Monster Challenge—eating the whole burger in under two hours—get $100 and their photo put on the restaurant's wall of fame. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

12. Hudson's Hamburgers // Coeur D'Alene, Idaho

Sign at Hudson's Hamburgers
aaron, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1907, Hudson's Hamburgers is a family-owned diner famous for its hamburgers and cheeseburgers. Hudson's eschews culinary trends that call for adding avocado or other more esoteric ingredients to burgers. Why mess with perfection? Although the burgers are simple creations, they come with spicy sauces and, if you want, hand-sliced pickles. Pro tip? If you play your cards right, you could get a burger and a slice of French Silk Pie for under $5.

13. Go Ramen Go Life // Long Island City, New York

ramen burger
iStock/Rimma_Bondarenko

Hybrid food lovers can enjoy the novel tastes and textures of sushi burritos, spaghetti doughnuts, and of course, ramen burgers. Japanese-American chef Keizo Shimamoto introduced the Original Ramen burger in 2013. Although there have been numerous copycats, you can find the original ramen burger—in all of its savory, salty, meaty glory—at Go Ramen Go Life. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the noodles are boiled and formed into buns, and a USDA Prime ground beef chuck patty along with vegetables, scallions, and a shoyu glaze round out the perfect burger.

14. DB Bistro Moderne // Miami, Florida

Gourmet burgers are a specialty at this bistro in the JW Marriott Marquis hotel (there are also locations in Manhattan and Singapore). The Original db Burger will set you back $35, but it's worth every penny. First, the chef braises short ribs for six to eight hours in red wine, stuffs them inside a sirloin burger composed of seven different cuts of meat, and lines a layer of foie gras in the burger. Then, he adds half a plump tomato, grated horseradish, and chicory. Finally, he spreads Dijon mustard on the bottom bun, which is finished with cheddar and onion seeds. Absolutely decadent and delicious.

15. The Pantry // Santa Fe, New Mexico

Sign at The Pantry in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Tadson Bussey, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

This family-owned restaurant has made Southwestern-inspired American diner food since 1948. The Pantry is legendary for its Tortilla Burger, which includes a chargrilled burger patty and pinto beans wrapped in a flour tortilla. Melted cheese and a pureed red chili sauce top it off, so grab plenty of napkins.

16. Louis' Lunch // New Haven, Connecticut

Louis' Lunch exterior in New Haven, Connecticut
Adam Jones, Flickr // CC BY SA-2.0

Louis Lassen opened Louis' Lunch in 1895, and his great-grandson continues to enchant customers with the famous hamburger sandwich. The patties, a mixture of five types of meat, are hand-rolled and cooked in cast-iron, 1890s grills. Cheese, onion, and tomato round out the burger—you can truly taste history in each bite.

17. Matt's Bar // Minneapolis, Minnesota

Why put cheese on top of a burger when you can put it inside? Minneapolis residents know all about the Juicy Lucy, a hamburger with gooey cheese conveniently stuffed inside the beef patty. Matt's Bar is one of the restaurants that claim to have invented the cheesy burgers—theirs is spelled Jucy Lucy. Order one and you're in for a seriously liquidy, savory treat.

18. The Griddle // Winnemucca, Nevada

Sign for The Griddle restaurant
Roadsidepictures, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A big blue neon sign greets customers who drive up to The Griddle. Inside, wood paneling and comfy green booths create the ideal vibe to enjoy some seriously good burgers. Although tons of people flock there for breakfast, The Griddle's burger selection is seriously impressive. Options include the Jamaican Jerk Burger, a ground chuck patty with chipotle mayo, and the Quinoa Burger, a quinoa patty with Swiss cheese and maple caramelized onions.

19. In-N-Out Burger // Baldwin Park, California

In-N-Out Burger
Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

In 1948, when Harry Snyder opened the first In-N-Out location in the San Gabriel Valley, he unknowingly started a burger revolution. The drive-thru hamburger stand differentiated itself from the competition by serving fresh meat and produce, made to order and made by hand. Snyder also introduced the two-way speaker box, allowing customers to order food without exiting their cars. Although there are now hundreds of In-N-Out stores across the southwest and west coast, you can visit a replica of the first restaurant in Baldwin Park. After you look at photos and learn about the legendary fast food company's history, head down the street to another In-N-Out, where you can chow down on a Double-Double and animal style fries.

20. Dyer's Burgers // Memphis, Tennessee

Inside of Dyer's Burgers
Memphis CVB, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Located across from Handy Park, Dyer's Burgers has been a legendary burger spot since it opened in 1912. Beef patties are fried in a top-secret cooking grease, which imparts a rich flavor and pleasant juiciness to the burger. Order Dyer's Triple Triple, a burger composed of three patties, three slices of cheese, onions, pickle, and mustard.

21. Matt's Place Drive-In // Butte, Montana

peanut butter on a hamburger
iStock/LauriPatterson

Back in 1930, Matt Korn opened a drive-in that he named, straightforwardly, Matt's Place. In 1943, Korn sold his drive-in to a former carhop employee and her husband. Today, their daughter and her husband run the restaurant and stay true to its roots, with a soda fountain and authentic '50s Coca-Cola machine on display. Their most famous burger, the Nutburger, is a beef patty topped with a spread of—wait for it—crushed peanuts and Miracle Whip. Once you try it, you'll immediately understand its appeal.

22. The Plant // San Francisco, California

Veggie burger at The Plant.

There are multiple locations of The Plant around San Fran, and that's a very good thing. The organic café serves delicious organic food, and the Plant Burger might just convince carnivores to consider opting for a more plant-based diet. The veggie burger looks purple thanks to a mixture of beets, lentils, mushrooms, cashews, and bulgur wheat. Seasonal local produce (lettuce, tomato, and onions) top the patty, and gluten-free bread is available upon request.

23. All-American Drive-In // Massapequa, New York

All-American Drive-In Diner
Adam Kuban, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Opened in 1963, this old-fashioned drive-in hamburger stand on Long Island serves classic, simple American fare. Hometown favorites Jerry Seinfeld and the Baldwin family visit the stand regularly for the savory double cheeseburgers and homemade French fries, but a simple hamburger will set you back just $1.40. Save room for dessert at the neighboring Marshall's Ice Cream Bar, which has both soft serve and old-fashioned ice cream.

24. The Chicago Diner // Chicago, Illinois

Vegan burgers at the Chicago Diner.
Beth Granter, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Vegetarians and carnivores alike love the veggie burgers at The Chicago Diner, a restaurant with locations in Logan Square and Halsted that’s been proudly "meat free since '83." As you sip a vegan milkshake, decide whether you want to order the Cajun Black Bean Burger or Buddha’s Karma Burger, a curried sweet potato-tofu patty. The burgers come with unusual toppings such as grilled pineapple, chimichurri, and fried jalapeño. For an extra buck, you can add avocado to any burger.

25. JG Melon // New York, New York

burger sliders
iStock/coldsnowstorm

This casual, small bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side is beloved for the rich, meaty burgers it serves. Fans of JG Melon's cheeseburger include everyone from Bobby Flay to former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the spot is often crowded as hungry customers vie for a seat amidst the watermelon artwork on the walls (expect plenty of crowding when they open their recently announced Upper West Side location too). If you visit during happy hour, from 5-7 p.m., order the Nacho Libre sliders, which are served with avocado, jalapeño, Monterey Jack, and pico de gallo.

The Real Reason Grocery Stores Spray Water on Their Produce

iStock/Edalin
iStock/Edalin

The fresh produce section of a grocery store promises what few other aisles can—whole foods, largely unprocessed, full of nutritional benefits like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Part of that “pure food” message is spread by tiny nozzles mounted above leafy greens that spray water all over vegetables in timed intervals.

There are, of course, perceived benefits to doing this. Psychologically, shoppers probably like seeing produce that’s shiny with water, presuming it’s going to remain fresh. Some stores even pipe in thunderstorm sound effects to complete the visual.

The dirty truth? Watering them isn’t actually necessary in many cases. Grocery stores are doing it for another reason.

The produce aisle in a grocery store
iStock/baranozdemir

You might think that vegetables that have been uprooted and can no longer draw moisture from soil need a little topping off. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true: Excess water can lead to microorganisms thriving and spoiling plant tissue faster than if it was kept dry. If your kale looks a little brown in your cart, it might be because the store was too overzealous in watering it.

Stores have another reason for the showers. When fresh fruits and vegetables are doused in water, they absorb moisture. Since produce is often sold by weight, that means a saturated head of lettuce costs more than one that hasn’t been watered. When you get rung up, you’re essentially paying a premium for that water—by some estimates, up to 25 percent more.

Want to avoid the consequences of this mist-covered marketing strategy? You can save a little bit of money simply by shaking off excess water before bagging your produce. And you can remember to wash it when you get home. The in-store produce showers aren’t a substitute for rinsing off bacteria and other contaminants from food. It’s just another clever trick grocery stores use to encourage you to keep filling up your cart.

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