Sunday, December 14, 2014

Double-Blind Taste Test Party

We decided to host a blind taste test party where we would have a suite of arguably similar products, labeled with random numbers in a double-blind fashion (one person assigns a random letter to each sample, a different person replaces the letter with a 3-digit random number and writes down which letter corresponds to which number to be decoded later) so that guests could taste them all and rank / judge them without any preconceptions. An easier approach some people followed was just putting the brand on the bottom of otherwise identical containers. The results are below, and you can get the raw data here if you like.

We collected a simple rank order for each set of samples rather than a fixed scale (e.g. 1-10), but rather than properly normalizing and analyzing the data we just took the mean of the ranks because of laziness. As such, this data should be used for entertainment purposes only. In a minor concession to science we added the standard deviation and a count of how many guests ranked each sample as the best or worst in the raw data.

The grocery store organic carrots won, with conventional carrots clearly the most reviled as bland, and organic CSA carrots in the middle due to their polarizing strong flavor (loved or hated).

Only 4 people submitted data for the 9 flavors chocolates (one of which was partial), partly because the labels got jumbled partway through. But the rice milk chocolate with peanut butter filling was a clear winner, and plain dark chocolate the least preferred overall.

Cocoa Powder
Highly polarizing. The strong and complex cocoa flavor of the Rademaker Dutched cocoa entranced some but others hatred it (but it still nudged into #1), and the same was true of the more metallic / traditional flavor of Hershey’s (a close #2), with the relatively bland Whole Foods cocoa in #3 (which was no one’s favorite).

These ratings were all over the place and the rankings were close (except Malta Goya, the “wild card” which all but one person hated). Overall Giant Cola was the winner, followed by Mexican Coke, Pepsi, American Coke, RC Cola, and Malta Goya in last. Several attendees requested a blind American / Mexican Coke test when it was revealed I (Jon) successfully guessed all colas blind (except switching Giant and Pepsi), and ranked Mexican Coke as #1 but American Coke as #2. However, no other guests successfully guessed which was which, and I probably got lucky.

Cookies (sandwich cremes)
The surprising winner was low-fat Oreos, with Back to Nature just behind in #2 place. Normal Oreos were a fairly distant 3rd, then Glutino (mostly b/c one person gave it the top rank), Joe-Joes, and Newman-O’s a clear last. Note that we unscrewed the top of every cookie so that people wouldn't be able to see the brand name embossed in the cookie top.

Grilled Vegan Cheese
Daiya barely beat out Sheese, with Follow Your Heart in 3rd, but Daiya was another strongly polarizing one due to its strong flavor (either cheeselike or fake depending on your point of view).

Hot Dogs
Lightlight jumbo dogs won out, with Tofurkey dogs just behind. Whole Foods and Tofu Pups were consistently more disliked due to their blander flavor. Tofu Pups was ranked last by all but 2 participants.

Cava Mezze was a clear winner with its nicely balanced flavor. Giant came in #2 despite being generally ranked as bland since the 3# brand (Whole Foods) had a strong tahini taste that 5 attendees really disliked.

Jelly Beans
We didn't collect data on this, but we DID have some Jelly Belly "Bean Boozled" beans, which come in pairs that are identically colored but are good or horrible. On the most benign end, everyone agreed toothpaste was pleasant enough (arguably about the same as Berry Blue), and lawn clippings were fine too. I think skunk and barf generated the most awful faces, but rotten egg was apparently pretty epic too (I didn't try that, nor canned dog food which was reputedly bad but less than rotten egg). Stinky socks and booger were bad but tolerable, moldy cheese was quite accurate which some people didn't mind and others couldn't stand, and baby wipes were scarily dead-on.

This was another surprising one. Cheap old Liptons was ranked 1, followed by the Premium Liptons, followed by the theoretically “better” Irish tea (I forget the brand). I think plain Liptons was less tannic (albeit less flavorful) than Premium Liptons, and the Irish tea was clearly the most bitter. Even odder is that for both Irish and Premium Liptons, the “standard brew” (168F water in a cold vessel and squeezed teabags) was substantially more popular than the “British brew” (rapidly boiling oxygenated water in a hot vessel without squeezing teabags). While the British brew produced more flavor, and all teas were brewed for 3 minutes (not too long), it may be that drinking them without sugar or milk meant that weaker flavors were preferred overall.

Tortilla Chips
Most people couldn’t tell the difference (or not a strong difference), and only 2 people successfully guessed the color of each (this was inevitably a single blind experiment with one person tasting with eyes closed and another person who knows the color passing them each type of chip). But there was a very weak preference for yellow (the most flavorful), then blue, then white corn.

We didn’t have actual Twizzlers, but Target beat out Lolli and Pops (despite costing 1/3 as much) mainly on texture (as the latter was very tough). Several people (but not all) preferred the Lolli and Pops flavor.

Vanilla Vegan Ice Cream
Trader Joe’s was a clear winner with all but 2 attendees preferring it strongly to So Delicious (described as having a more beany taste by several).

Vegan Cream Cheese (tasted with bagel segments)
Tofutti was a clear winner, with Follow Your Heart, Go Veggie, and Daiya basically in a 3-way tie, and the homemade cream cheese coming in last (it wasn’t bad, but was the least like cream cheese).

This was an upset, with Svedka (the middle of the road price-wise) a fairly clear favorite, and Aristocrat (as cheap as it gets) beating Russian Standard (the premium vodka) for 2nd place. Attendees were mostly polarized around whether Aristocrat or Russian Standard was the gross one.

A few things were interesting here. No one (except me) successfully guessed that one of the 5 red wines was a dyed Chardonnay (although some did describe it as minerally, sweet/sour, and oaky, and I knew one of them was a Chardonnay). The relatively fancy Napa Valley 2012 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon was a clear winner, with the same wine heavily aerated (via a milk frother and a few hours of decanting, see picture below) in the #2 place but substantially less preferred. The Purple Moon shiraz was #3, then the dyed Chardonnay (which I have to say was truly dreadful wine), followed by Charles Shaw Shiraz (which was either a bad bottle, or several attendees had convinced themselves was good despite it being crappy wine). If you want to try dying wine, for this bottle I added 25 drops of red food dye, 2 of blue food dye, and 10 of black food dye. It looks pretty good in a clear glass, but brownish against a white background.