It might be difficult to understand why anyone would have a conversation about good-tasting stale food, me included. In the interest of respecting everyone's point of view, we are going to talk about why foods taste better stale.
Everyone's taste buds are different. Remember Covid-19 when some of us lost our taste? That was a humbling moment. I happen to personally know someone who has lost a sense of taste due to a brain injury. There are people who make their living all to the credit of exceptional taste bud performance.
We are all clearly operating with different levels of taste buds. If someone says they like food better stale, we must respect that opinion.
Foods that taste better stale are usually chips, cookies, and crunchy snacks like popcorn where the person eating it prefers a more chewy and slightly more soft texture. Any food of this type that has been exposed to air for a few days has a chance to absorb moisture and become slightly more soft.
Why are stale chips good?
The largest "stale" category (closely followed by popcorn) are stale chips. Or should I say controversial, because it is. Chips are the quintessential snack food, upholding the traits of crunchy and salty. A non-crunchy chip doesn't seem... right.
Is it weird to like stale chips? Not really. Case in point is the popular Cheetos brand of snacks. It happens to be too hard for many folks. Turning up that "air-o-meter" just a touch seems to take the edge off the hard snappiness of the product.
Stale chips taste better because the flavors are not competing with the distracting, hard texture of a fresh chip out of the package. The consumer has a chance to enjoy and appreciate the flavors of the chips.
Why are stale Oreos so good?
Any prepackaged cookie tastes better stale because it loses it's hard, crisp texture when exposed to air. Some consumers consider some varieties of store-bought cookies too hard for a soft and chewy eating experience. Leaving cookies exposed to air for a few days will soften the cookie.
Open any package of cookies like Oreos, Chips A'Hoy, or a box of gingersnaps, or graham crackers, and you will find a pretty hard cookie inside. Manufacturer's have responded to consumer feedback and now market softer cookies (though hard ones are still for sale).
Homemade cookies have the opposite problem. It is a struggle to keep them soft. If you're like me, I use grandma's old trick, and toss in a piece of bread. The cookies absorb the moisture from the bread. Even though cookies don't last long in my kitchen, I always toss a bread heel in and cover with a sealed lid.
Why does stale popcorn taste better?
Again, it is the eater's preference for a kinder and softer texture that leads some people to prefer stale popcorn that sits overnight. There could a texture experience between prepackaged store-bought, and raw, un-popped popcorn that is void of sitting in oil in the bag, but that is another conversation!
Stale popcorn tastes better because the cooked flavors of the butter/oil and seasonings have had a chance to blend flavors overnight. The taste experience of day-old popcorn, as well as the texture (now more soft and chewy) is different from fresh-popped popcorn.
I will throw in the argument of un-popped popcorn that goes stale. Last summer, a friend provided me four large bags of popcorn he had grown. Although I do love to make popcorn in my Stir-Crazy popcorn maker, my family doesn't eat that much popcorn.
I was disappointed to find that my one-year-old popcorn's popping success rate had declined over time. There was a considerable amount of kernels sitting at the bottom of my popcorn bowl. I also noticed that the popped popcorn was more "flat" and less crispy. Some "stale popcorn" enthusiasts like this texture.
I prefer mine with more crunch.
Even stale candy is a topic of conversation. Gummy candy, marshmallows, marshmallow "peeps" and licorice sticks can be too soft right out of the package. If you prefer these items a bit more firm, then allow them some fresh air. In this case, the syrupy candies have a chance to dry out a tiny bit when exposed to air, instead of absorbing air like chippy things do.
Texture sensitivity is a real thing. Having a slightly dry gummy seems to do if for some folks.
Stale food versus food left overnight
There is a big difference between "stale" and leaving prepared food to sit overnight. Foods that are left overnight taste better because the flavors, spices, herbs, etc. in the food have been allowed to blend.
If you want to know the secrets of a good cook, they don't serve all of their food "fresh." For example, I make a killer lasagna, but I make it the night before, allowing the special seasonings to blend to perfection. Same with my special potato soup - I never serve it the same day (oops- the secret is out!).
That carry-out pizza you're having for breakfast? That's not stale, that's pizza happiness to your taste buds... the blending of flavors has officially taken place.
A preference for stale food is really a texture and taste preference. There is a spot of time when leaving the food exposed to air is in the perfect Goldilock's zone of "just right." It will take time and multiple packages of food to find the spot. If you're dedicated to stale food, I no doubt trust you will find the length of time that works for you.