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Aug 22, 2010 03:21 PM

Blind taste tests that you think would lead to surprising results

If you have ever read or watched America's Test Kitchen, you have seen surprising results of blind test tests. The most famous one is imitation vanilla vs real vanilla extract.

What other categories do you think there would be surprising results?

I have a couple.

Salts where table salt, sea salt, kosher salt and iodized salt on food is compared.

Chicken stocks with and without carrots and celery.

Store brand vanilla ice creams.

Different varieties of ground black pepper.

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  1. Organic vs. conventional [fill in the blank]

    30 Replies
    1. re: nofunlatte

      Yeah, but the selling point for organic is not really about better taste, it is about better health, so even if organic chicken tastes the same or even worse than conventional chicken, I don't think that will impact the organic chicken demand.

      What would be surprising is a study which compares the health effect of organic chicken vs conventional grown chicken. However, that will be a difficult study to conduct, I believe.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Funny, I am constantly hearing from food network personalities that organic tastes better.

        1. re: mlukan

          No, no. I understand that. What I am saying is that most people that buy organic foods is for health reasons or maybe for environmental reasons, the better taste part is merely a bonus. Even if the organic food tastes no better than conventional grown food, it won't have a big impact on the sale.

          1. re: mlukan

            Some people think organic tastes better but I think it's less that the food is organic than that foods that are produced under organic guidelines are generally produced with more care and attention than mass-produced industrial food. Not always, of course: there can be good conventional products and, unfortunately, industrial-quality products that are nominally organic.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I've had a number of friends tell me they think organic produce tastes better. I would LOVE to give them a blind taste test!

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                100% agree, I would still be willing to bet the average palette would not be able to tell the difference.

                1. re: mlukan

                  Probably not, and even if we can tell the small difference, the difference may simply be a difference, as oppose to good tasting vs nasty tasting.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics


                      Totally agree with you on this. Even different fruits of the same type (i.e. conventional) will taste different.

                      Take two conventionally grown bananas from the same batch, there is absolutely no guarantee they will taste the same.

                      This is why we have threads going on and on about the best way to pick a watermelon, or a mango, or a whatever ...

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        +1 from me. I don't buy organic everything, but the stuff that I can taste a dramatic difference in, I do. The stuff I consistently purchase are eggs, chickens and bread (though the bread I'll admit is probably just made differently).

                        It's amazing how often chicken just tastes of nothing at all.

                        1. re: Soop

                          Eggs and chicken from the farmers market taste much better to me than store bought, regardless of regular store bought, or organic store bought. Hands down different. Store bought chicken is mealy and sometimes taste ammonia-y, regardless of 'organic' or not.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          actually, unless you buy those tiny finger bananas, all the "normal" bananas people buy are clones of each other! weird, right?

                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I think a lot of organic Producers grow heirloom varieties and breeds which may have more to do with the taste than the methods used.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    I agree, CK, and I buy a lot of organic goods. But I'm not sure I could taste the difference (and the OP referenced TASTE tests). My personal experience leans more toward local than organic--less transit time, so the produce can actually be harvested when ripe. Local AND organic would be my top choice, though. I have had some pretty awful organic carrots, for example, and some tasty conventional ones.

                    FYI, my own personal taste test has shown that organic chicken is FAR superior to supermarket conventional--skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts actually have flavor! I buy nearly all of my meat/poultry at the local organic store and there really is (to me) a flavor difference.

                    1. re: nofunlatte

                      I haven't taste tested organic chickens. In fact when I see a sign says it is organic, I usually run the other way.

                      I do suspect that yard fed chickens, if that is what organic is, are probably more flavorful. After all, a supermarket chicken is raised on kibbles or whatever and harvested after only about 6 weeks. How much flavor could they accumulate?

                      Make that covered pen raised chickens. We have plenty of hawks in Texas. Yard fed chickens wouldn't last very long.

                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                        But the hawks would appreciate them! The deserve organic chickens too! ;)

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          most places have hawks. For the small producer at least its' not that hard to hawk-proof your chickens. Netting over the pen is pretty cheap, and there are also moveable pen designs that would minimize the amount of overhead space that needs to be protected.

                        2. re: nofunlatte

                          I think it has less to do with what "organic" really means, rather than how, in general, the product is raised/grown. I believe that a chicken that was allowed to roam around eating whatever it wanted, yet the grass is pecked on was treated with some non-organic fertilizer, it couldn't be called organic chicken, but it would be in all other ways similar.

                          The point is, it's not that no preservatives, chemicals, etc. have been used, it's more the concept that the animal/fruit/vegetable was allowed to grow in more natural circumstances. In the case of chicken, greater taste comes from better diet variety, and not "bulking" up the chicken to maximize muscle mass. With fruit, it might mean varietals that have less yield, but greater flavor - whether a pesticide was sprayed on them at some point won't really affect a strawberry's flavor, but the varietal used matters a lot.

                          1. re: foreverhungry

                            Your post has some interesting distinctions, and makes me wonder for the first time if fois gras from manually fattened goose or duck must by definition not be "organic." Not much nature happening there!

                            1. re: Bada Bing

                              I think there is a lot of confusion over what "organic" means. The last time I read up on the topic, there were 4 different "organic" certifications, all slightly different. It's not something that is federally controlled (at least as far as I know...things might have changed), so in theory, anyone can claim their product is organic. There are certification organizations that, for a fee, will examine a product's processes, and if deemed organic, allows them to put their organic "seal" next to the organic claim.

                              I do think people get caught up in the "organic" labeling, without knowing exactly what it means. For some products, it's an "environment" thing, for others there might be a taste difference, and yet others a health consideration. Do "organic" carrots taste better than conventional? I don't know, but carrots with their tops still on sure taste a lot better than ones with tops cut off. With carrots, I frankly don't care if they are organic - but I want carrots with their green tops on. Chicken and beef? Organic? Couldn't care less. But I do prefer free-ranging and/or grass fed.

                              BTW - with "free ranged" chickens...I read that a producer can label a chicken as free ranged if the chickens have an opportunity to go outside and roam around. But in reality, even coops that have outside access, chickens don't go outside, because they were born and raised indoors - so they have no reasont o go outside, and are afraid to. So a chicken labeled "free-range" may literally have never seen the light of day. Don't know if that's completely true - just something I read last year.

                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                Organic is defined by the USDA and companies are not allowed to claim they are, if they don't follow the practices.


                                1. re: chowser

                                  Thanks for the USDA info on "organic". Very interesting stuff. In looking at their website and the accompanying documents, there still seems to be some liberty in what's considered organic and what's not. Some pesticides can be used, some cannot. Some fertilizers can be used, some cannot. Small farmers and producers don't need to be certified, and can still claim organic status. It doesn't appear to be a cut and dry process - as well it couldn't be, because it is a complicated affair.

                                  Add that to the fact that most people have absolutely no idea where their food comes from, how it's grown, and what affect different procedures have, it's no wonder there's lots of confusion over what "organic" means when it comes to food.

                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                    Yeah, it's a shot at trying to give consumers information, quick and dirty but not complete information. It's more important to know the farm/farming technique and, many small farms are organic but can't afford the certification; or they have sustainable techniques but aren't technically organic; or they're transitional and I will support that, too. And mass produced organic is less preferable, IMO, to a small local farm that isn't certified. I don't think, though, that small farms can call their products organic unless they fit the definition. They can say they're "antibiotic free", "rGBH free" etc. but only if they are. When you come down to it, Whole Foods sources it organic frozen foods from China--I don't think you can get further from the sustainable, environmental idea than that (it's a hyperbole, in case anyone gets on my case that there is worst).

                              2. re: Bada Bing

                                I think foie gras would be easy to be "organic" because the feed is completely controlled by the producer since the geese don't have access to anything else. It doesn't have to do with nature. Humane is another issue but organic, yes. There are mass produced organic milk companies that want to use dried milk from New Zealand to augment their production--not at all "nature" but within the definitions of organic.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  This is a great example of confusion over what "organic" means. Why would organic fois gras matter? Given the humane issues (full disclosure - I love fois gras and will eat it whenever possible), and given that it is exceedingly unlikely that there are taste differences between organic and non-organic fois gras, what difference does it make?

                                  Well, perhaps to marketers that might garner a few extra bucks from unsuspecting (ignorant?) customers, it might matter...

                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                    I believe the selling point for "organic" is not so much about taste, but rather being healthy or environmental. Is it really healthy or environmental? That is another topic.

                                    1. re: foreverhungry

                                      Yes, I only want organic feed crammed down the gullet of a goose for my fois gras.

                                      Actually, I have never had fois gras. One of those things I am looking forward to.

                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        Not directed at you HH, but this is the end of the thread at this oint.

                                        Further u there is the comment that Organic is better for you, now we have organic foie gras...ergo (i love that word) eating organic foie gras is good for you.

                                        Oh man show me the grocer who sells that healthy alterantive to Frosted Flakes.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          jfood. I "know" you well enough to know that you know that there are healthy alternatives to Frosted Flakes. :)

                                          And they are as ridiculous as organic foie gras. IMO life's little luxuries need to be enjoyed as such—rarely and with a full appreciation of what the animal (in the case of FG) went through or what your system (in the case of FF) is going through. By all means spend 99% of the time making responsible choices. Spend 100% of the time doing so if you are an exceptional human. I for one am only average.

                        3. ooh. How about grass fed vs corn fattened choice rib eyes or prime if you can find a grass fed prime steer.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                            I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference between the two. The question is which one would taste better? That's a matter of preference, familiarity, and expectations. Most people are more familiar with the rich fatty flavour, and silky texture of corn raised beef. With grass fed beef, the texture will be more chewy, the flavour more "beefy". I would bet most people would prefer the corn raised beef, because that/s the flavour they expect. I'm not sure which I would prefer personally.

                            1. re: haggisdragon

                              Yeah, a lot of Americans really don't like grass-fed beef.

                            2. re: Hank Hanover

                              i find the difference very noticeable, and i actually i prefer the minerally, gamy flavor of grass-fed beef to corn fed. in fact, i now only eat grass-fed.

                            3. a blind test on bottled water v tap would be interesting. Some swear they prefer Zephyrhills or Evian over store brand or tap. At the same temperature and from a glass I wonder how many could really identify waters with a blindfold on.

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: smartie

                                High quality municipal water systems such as those that serve Boston, NYC and metro Denver could earn some bragging rights from a blind test with fancy bottled water.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Recently heard the majority of bottled water is from municipal water sources.

                                  1. re: monku

                                    Sure. That should not be a surprise. Where else the water would come from, right?

                                    The "for" argument is that the bottled water was from the municipal water sources, but it undergoes additional and extensive purification before being bottled.

                                    The "against" argument is that the ADDITIONAL purification process does not really improve the water.

                                  2. re: Veggo

                                    We spent alot of time over the last two months in Reno, NV, about an hour from our home at Lake Tahoe. The Reno water is blah tasting at best and when they're actively chlorinating, it's pretty yucky. I finally started bring gallon jugs of water from home. But overall, I can rarely tell a difference. 'Course I also really rarely buy bottled water. And I agree that NYC water is quite good.

                                  3. re: smartie

                                    I would also like to see a taste test on bottled waters. That would be interesting.

                                    Yes Monku. Most bottled waters are municipal water run through a filter. Wouldn't you like to sell 16 ounces of filtered water for $1.50? Running it through a charcoal filter would even change the taste (for the better).

                                    At least the environmentalists are finally catching on to that. Such a waste of plastic.

                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      If I remember correctly it was the "pseudo" environmentalists that were protesting the municipal water and jump starting the bottled water fad.

                                      1. re: monku

                                        I have a water softener that I use potassium chloride (no rock salt) in then I have a filter set up under the sink which includes regular filters plus a charcoal filter for taste.

                                        I don't have chlorine, sediment, hard water minerals or sodium in my water. It may have trace amounts of Potassium but that's a good thing.

                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          When I go to the store, I always see people buying bottled water by the case. I have some relatives that keep meaning to buy a $90 filter for under the sink but until they do, they are going to keep buying bottled water because theirs taste funny.

                                          I'm not a big environmentalist but that plastic doesn't go anywhere. With a filter, you can buy a sports bottle or two so you can still look way cool at the gym. You can even have it with you constantly.

                                        2. re: monku

                                          You are joking, right? The bottle water culture has much more negative impact on environment than many things I can think of. Forget about the plastic. The fact that you have to transport water (a very inexpensive and yet very density material) across country is just silly.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Well, no. There are all kinds of people who call themselves environmentalists, including those who are concerned to the point of paranoia about the chemicals that might be in their drinking water -- nevermind that public water systems are much more heavily regulated and to higher standards than bottled water. However, that was before the days when the major environmental concern was global warming and reducing carbon footprints and rafts of plastic bottles the size of Texas floating around the Pacific.

                                            I think the real culprits in the bottled water craze are the "you must drink 8 glasses of water a day" health "experts." Twenty years ago people didn't seem to need to have a bottle of some kind of liquid with them at all times to stave off imminent dehydration.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Of course I'm joking.
                                              I hate the mere thought of "paying" for water in a bottle.

                                              1. re: monku

                                                No, I mean you must be joking that a group of environmentalists started this water bottle trend.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  FAKE environmentalists, eg moneygrubbers looking to ride the coattails of the green movement to the wrong kind of green - cash.

                                        3. re: smartie

                                          I've done this test. You can tell the difference between waters mainly because of their different mineral contents.

                                          I live in London, UK and cannot stand to drink the tap water here. I usually add a bit of lime or tea to it to make it palatable. Sometimes I buy bottled water too and have a scale of preferences among them.

                                          My wife one day decided to test how much was psychological and how much actual taste. The first test was tap water vs. bottled water and I passed that with flying colors. The next test was with different bottled waters that I had already expressed preferences for. She went to the market and got a bottle of each and served them to me in glasses. Again, I passed that with flying colors. I easily identfied my two favorites: Fiji water and Brecon Carreg.

                                          This is not to say that bottled is always better than tap. There are some bottled waters that to me taste as bad as the London tap water. And, likewise, there are tap waters which are absoluetly delicious. I used to live in San Francisco and the water there was fine. But the best tap water ever was the tap water when we visited Baden-Baden in Germany. More delicious than any bottled water I have ever tasted.

                                          1. re: r.vacapinta

                                            For me, bottled water always seems "flat" compared to tap water - even tap water from a Brita Pitcher. But I'm fortunate to live in an area with great tap water.

                                            However the tap water at my parent's farm always has the taste of iron for me now that I don't live there, and to me, the ice always smells funny.

                                          2. re: smartie

                                            Steingarten did an interesting piece on the difference between waters. He explained why IE if you prefer Poland Springs to Evian you will also like Fiji or Volvic, but if you prefer... etc. It was very interesting and fit perfectly with my experience. (That said, I drink good old NYC tap water if I have the choice.)

                                            1. re: smartie

                                              Was a water bar on R St Honore in Paris in basement below a high end gadget store called Colette that had at one point well over 100 bottled waters. They would serve them individually or in flights matched by flavor, salt content, or other things that allowed you to pick your favorite. Not the best but what you liked best, it worked well and now when ordering or buying bottled waters, l know what l prefer. There is a difference, especially in the salt and mineral content/taste, and size of bubble.

                                            2. I did this blind taste test of various products a while ago.

                                              19 Replies
                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                My son did a comparison test for science class on which box of raisin bran had more raisins, and he was surprised to see that the cheaper generic had more raisins.

                                                Somebody here did a nice little blind taste test of various Bourbons - - you can search for "Maker's Mark" to find it.

                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                  Purely in the pursuit of science, I'm sure. I think I would like to do one on high end ice cream. I don't care if it has already been done!

                                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                    Count me in on being on the panel.

                                                    1. re: monku

                                                      I've heard that ice cream taste testers for Ben & Jerry's end up hating ice cream.

                                                      I'm very willing to put that up to test, personally.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Yeah me too since my childhood dreams of marrying a woman that owns a Baskin Robbins fell through.

                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                          When I was in 7th grade I had a part time job at B&R, if you knew the owner's wife you'd be glad that dream fell through.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            When I was in 7th grade I had a part time job at B&R, I never got tired of it....scoopin it or eatin it.

                                                            1. re: monku

                                                              I think there's a palpable difference between "eatin" ice cream and taste testing it.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                I don't know....I taste tested all 31+ flavors several times and never got tired of it.
                                                                Think I saw something about the taster for Dreyer's and he said he loved his job.

                                                                1. re: monku

                                                                  Oh he does. John only need one tiny gold spoon to taste (yes, gold because of its inert). He also said he invented the favor: cookie and cream


                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                    Yeah, that's the guy.
                                                                    Does he look like he hates anything?

                                                                    1. re: monku

                                                                      No, he looks like he enjoys life quiet a bit. He also came across as a nice guy in the interview I watch. On the other hand, he cannot like everything he tastes. Afterall, it is his job to distinguish good ice cream from bad ice cream. Deyer's won't have hired him for so long to only have him to say everything taste good. Just like the fact that it is a movie critic's job to criticize films.

                                                                  2. re: monku

                                                                    I'm sure the Dreyer's dude love his job.

                                                                    But my fear is that if I were an ice cream taste tester, what would I do with myself when I want to go out for an ice cream treat ...

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      Yeah, I can see that. Once it becomes part of your jobs, it does take some joys away from it.

                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                        It's like when I used to work at a donut shop. For a while there, I couldn't stomach the sight, nor taste, of any kind of donut.

                                                                        Thankfully, I'm cleansed of that phobia now ...

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit


                                                                          You know you are not the first nor the second person who told me about "working in a donut shop make you sick of the donut smell". I think there is something almost universal here.

                                                                          I don't believe you will get the same strong negative feeling if you are to work as an ice cream taster. So send out your resume now to Breyer's now (Deyer's competitor)

                                                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      But to be a fair test, I think I would have to test at least 2 scoops of each ice cream. Daunting job but somebody has to do it.

                                                        2. I'd be interested to see if the much more expensive Japan raised kobe beef will actually beat American raised counterparts in blind tasting.