To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.
In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.
I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.
I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.
My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.
From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.
Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]
Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]
Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]
Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]
Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]
Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]
Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]
Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]
From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”: “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.
Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.
One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).
I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.
Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.
D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.
Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.
Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.
Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.
All images were taken by me.