A panoramic photograph of Malham Cove in North Yorkshire.

Taste tests

Tom Forth,

The concept

We all know that some things that cost more are worth it. And some things aren't.

So a few years ago I started buying a cheap version and an expensive version of the same product, and then doing a blind test to see which I preferred. Blind testing means that I didn't know which product was which, which was usually easy, but sometimes required a blindfold.

Blind testing is probably important because of the placebo effect (actually, similar effects with different names) that mean we're likely to search for reasons to prefer things that we've paid more for.

In all cases I bought the cheapest item I would be likely to buy regularly (so, for eggs, I won't ever buy caged hen eggs) and something near the most expensive item I'd buy regularly (I'm not spending over £8 on a bottle of wine to drink at home). At home I drink filter coffee, so I wasn't going to compare instant coffee with espresso.

Here's what a typical test looks like,

We've since done tests on,

Biggest surprises?

Worth spending more.

The result with eggs really surprised me. What are eggs? Do they taste of much? Not really, I thought. Big mistake.

I quite strongly oppose Organic food (I think that lower yields mean it requires larger areas of land to be cultivated and is thus bad for the environment — plus many of its strongest advocates are strongly anti-science, which I dislike) Organic Eggs are consistenly better by a large margin to free range eggs. I only buy organic eggs or specialty non-organic eggs (blue eggs in Aldi for example) now. The difference is really big and in my fury at the result I've retested this half a dozen times since. Organic eggs always win easily.

The results with wine also surprised me. I was ready for a £8 bottle of over-hyped French wine (Bourgogne) to be no better than a £3.50 bottle of Spanish plonk. But the more expensive wine was considerably better.

Save your money.

I expected more expensive coffee and chocolate to be worth it — but despite frequent retests they aren't for me. Coffee beans from Aldi for £1.60 taste lovely. £12 coffee beans from the local hipster roastery in Manchester taste lovely.

Chocolate has been the same. I like dark chocolate and the darkness of the chocolate seems to be much more important than price in deciding whether I'll like chocolate or not. This result needs caveating though. Really excellent chocolate is better, and almost a different product to normal chocolate. But remember, I'm only testing stuff I'd buy.


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