And Ghirardelli Was Third: Blind Tasting Dark Chocolate

When you say you prefer a certain brand, how much of your opinion is actually yours?

Most of us like to think our opinions are our own and that branding doesn't influence us. There's only one way to know for sure: the blind test. And as we saw last week, blind tests are a rigorous and fun way to control for the influence of branding and advertising, and they often produce surprising (and money-saving) results. Today, we'll walk through a practical example of a blind test we did here at Casual Kitchen. It was a taste-off of four versions of nature's greatest substance: dark chocolate.

This entire tasting cost just over ten bucks, and it was the most fun I'd had on a Monday night in years. There were four of us participating: Laura, me, and my parents, both total chocolate addicts who I hold directly responsible for my own uncontrollable addiction.

Our taste test wasn't extensive: we simply tested four typical brands found in any supermarket:

1) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao $2.99 for a 3.5 ounce bar, or 86c per ounce
2) Cadbury $2.19 for a 3.5 ounce bar, or 63c per ounce
3) Dove $2.79 for a 3.3 ounce bar, or 84c per ounce
4) Hershey's $2.19 for a 4.25 ounce bar, or 52c per ounce

These four brands represent a fairly broad range of quality. The price range isn't all that wide unless you consume as much dark chocolate as I do.

Had we simply let price and brand signal quality for us, we'd have an obvious hierarchy. Ghirardelli would be "best" and Hershey's would be "worst." Dove comes in second and Cadbury third. Most people would probably agree with that ranking.

So we set out the chocolate, cut into small chunks to obscure all branding, and started tasting. (And that's when my 83-year-old mother said "I'm going to have to taste this chocolate more than one time, Daniel." Eighty-three and as sneaky as ever).

And Cadbury won. Dove came in second. Hershey's was the consensus last place, receiving comments like "too sweet, weird texture." What was most intriguing, though, was that Ghirardelli came in third--a disappointing finish for a product that supposedly signals itself as a premium brand worth a premium price.

Here's the thing. Maybe Ghirardelli is truly high quality chocolate, and my parents and I have terrible taste in chocolate. But so what? We like what we like.

Now that I know I prefer two other, lower-priced brands, why would I continue to pay extra for Ghirardelli? Should I continue to let that brand's market position and high price signal "Buy me! I'm high quality!" when the overwhelming proof from my own tastebuds says otherwise?

Once again, branding provides little or no value for consumers. It merely reflects billions of dollars of advertising and marketing spent to encourage us to stop thinking for ourselves.

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Eleonora said...

Dan, did you notice if milk or other milk by-products were included in the ingredient list? That is the point I use to select dark chocolate: if it's dark, there should be no milk whatsoever!

Stuart Carter said...

You know, life is way too short to get all het up about whether "someone" has "better taste" (by what standard?) than you.

Although I have to commend you on choosing Cadbury's as the best. Good show ;)

Owlhaven said...

Dove is my fave. Always. (But I confess, I haven't tried Cadbury's.)

Now I'm thinking a blind taste test would be a fun addition to family movie night sometime.

Marcia said...

interesting. I've never had Cadbury.

chacha1 said...

My palate finds Hershey's a bit dry and over-sweet, and Dove somewhat oily and also over-sweet. I've always liked Ghirardelli, so I guess we will have to try some Cadbury. :-)

Sara said...

I've been eating Dove dark chocolate promises a lot lately. Usually just one or two at a time after a meal as a sort of palate cleanser (unless it's a certain time of the month, when a certain stereotype holds true, at least for me). I really like them, and eating such a small amount of dark chocolate is very satisfying and a good signal to my brain that the meal is over.

If I see Cadbury dark in the future, I'll pick it up to give it a try, but the Dove Dark Chocolate promises are so easily available at my local grocery that I probably won't make an effort to find it.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry you didn't taste my favorite.
I'm wondering how it would place in your taste test. I think it's hard to beat Guittard chocolate ! YUM!

Matt @ SpoonMatters said...

Great story, thanks for sharing the results! I'm psyched to try a similar test with my family and see what we come up with.

How did you manage to obscure the branding, though? I'm picturing certain chocolate bars and know that some have a distinct shape that could be recognizable even when cut into small pieces.

Daniel said...

Matt, great question.

What we did was cut the pieces down into *very* small pieces--basically smallish bits--so that it was impossible to distinguish one brand from another by looking at the thickness or shape of the pieces.

Further, we didn't look too closely at the chocolate while we were sampling it. After all, the differences in color could give away the brand too.


Schmoopie said...

I notice you didn't have Godiva in the study.....but I suppose it wouldn't be considered "laughably cheap!"