Help plan our next blind taste test
June 2, 2012 4:50 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I love to do blind taste tests for fun. We've done water, boxed macaroni and cheese, cola, and root beer (water was the most satisfying because the expensive store-bought waters did so poorly). I'd like to do a another soon (perhaps on Father's Day), but can't think of a good product to test. The ideal test subject would be a type of food or drink that is available in several variations at stores in the U.S. Coffee and wine would seem like good possibilities, but she doesn't drinking much and neither of us is a coffee drinker.
posted by Area Man to Food & Drink (60 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Ice cream.
posted by BibiRose at 4:52 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chocolate. Varying cacao percentages and so forth. Contrary to what Big Candy wants you to think, chocolate can be very complex.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:55 AM on June 2, 2012 [11 favorites]

This is one of my favorite segments of America's Test Kitchen (because it brings out the uber-b*tch in Chris Kimball); maybe you can steal some of their ideas? See also, the related Cook's Illustrated.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:57 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Peanut butter or yogurt would be fun for me, or black tea! Oh, I like this idea. Mr. Bruno suggests olive oils, if you've got the cashola.
posted by hungrybruno at 5:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Butter: imported French, Danish, Swedish, German, local from the health store, commercial various brands...

...on nice white baguettes from the French bakery...mmm...
posted by Namlit at 5:01 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh and: black olives. Feta cheese. Canned tomatoes (seriously). Imported sausage. Sherry. Honey.

Someone stop me please.
posted by Namlit at 5:06 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by taff at 5:08 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Orange juice is supposed to be extremely complex - especially when fresh squeezed.

If you can hit a farmer's market, apples or pears.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Supermarket standards: White bread, canned chili, packaged chocolate chip cookies, fruit juice, peanut butter, jelly.

Pricey/gourmet: Olive oil, single-origin chocolates (get one of those sets with a bunch of different origins and compare), salt (pink Himalayan, fleur de del, gray, etc).
posted by dayintoday at 5:11 AM on June 2, 2012

Frozen burritos, tofu, cheese (sharp cheddar, maybe - there's usually a bunch of different brands of cheddar at the supermarket), tortilla chips, potato chips?
posted by mskyle at 5:14 AM on June 2, 2012

Hot sauce
posted by sciencegeek at 5:18 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Milk (non organic, organic, non homogenized, glass bottle/local...)
posted by NikitaNikita at 5:20 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are varieties of vinegar that are available in different ages. The advantages of using, say, balsamic vinegar is that none of it is really bad, and it doesn't spoil - so you could buy lots of types and you don't have to worry about throwing it out.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:21 AM on June 2, 2012

Ketchup, peanut butter, orange soda-pop.
posted by gjc at 5:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've often wondered about different sized eggs. Are jumbos tastier than medium?
posted by GPF at 5:23 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Canned fish. Olive oil (there's so many types, you'll go crazy I swear).
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:30 AM on June 2, 2012

My wife and I did a taste test of pretzels awhile back. There were marked differences in saltiness, flavor, and texture, especially using rods, which was our shape of choice.

(For the record, our winner was Snyder's of Hanover.)
posted by maxim0512 at 5:36 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Apples. I have always wanted to try different apple varieties, and there are so many available.
posted by TrarNoir at 5:38 AM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

Chips: spicy type
Crackers: cheesey type
Dips!: onion type
Chips: salt and vinegar type
Snacks: puffy cheesey crunchy type
Dips!: ranch type
Ice creams: mixed up crunchy things type
Ice creams: mixed up chocalately things type
Crackers: wacky shapes type

So snacks, is what I'm saying.

We do taste tests and love it but they're of the alcohol variety. It's fun to engineer the blind tasting/scoring part, if you're a terrible nerd.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:41 AM on June 2, 2012

Oh, wait? Fathers' Day? Bacon, obvs.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:41 AM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

My daughter and I did a consumer comparison of microwave popcorn a few years ago for her science fair project. The results were surprising.
posted by drlith at 5:42 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Root beer or bacon.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:00 AM on June 2, 2012

Chocolate chip cookies
posted by rachums at 6:13 AM on June 2, 2012

Honey! Different apiary/vegetation/trees/locales etc produces such different tastes.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

One thing that I'm very particular about is cottage cheese. I feel like there are huge differences between brands.

For sheer variety, you could do different brands of different types of salad dressings.
posted by erstwhile at 6:43 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You've done water, but how about sparkling mineral water: San Pellegrino vs. Perrier vs. Gerolsteiner, etc.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:49 AM on June 2, 2012

Mustards! That one takes time, though, because first you must have everyone you know bring you back various mustards from their world travels!
posted by bluebelle at 6:50 AM on June 2, 2012

Seconding both chocolate and black tea. With chocolate, it's easy to either find a bunch of great South American producers or to order truffles and the like from gourmet chocolatiers who list their source. With black tea, it's all about the moment when you break out the Lapsang Souchong and then go 'whoa. WHOA.' And then you know what the best black tea is.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:53 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Black tea: Liptons, Trader Joe's, Twinings, and other commercial brands; also oolong, lapsang, ph-erh, etc.

Or herbal teas: chamomile and so on.
posted by anadem at 7:05 AM on June 2, 2012

Honey, for sure.
Hot sauce (sample a dot on little pieces of white cheddar cheese).
Plain yogurt.
Different brands of shredded wheat.
Grapes from different bunches!
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:07 AM on June 2, 2012

Bacon, if you're doing it on Fathers' Day.
Otherwise, any supermarket staple, so that you can find your favorites.

By the way, how do you do this so that you both aren't biased by the brands? If you pour the water into different cups, the person who poured will know which cup has which brand, right?
posted by xmts at 7:24 AM on June 2, 2012

Jarred tomato sauce
posted by bq at 7:27 AM on June 2, 2012

Seconding apples. My husband and I once bought and taste-tested ten varieties of apples, and not only was it a ton of fun, it increased our apple consumption (since we always know which varieties we'll like).

Chewing gum. There are about a million different brands and flavors of chewing gum in every check-out aisle.

Ooh, and ramen noodles. I've never been able to tell the difference between Beef Flavor, Shrimp Flavor, etc. in the grocery store brands. And if you go to any Asian market, you'll find way-better varieties of ramen that are still dirt cheap.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:48 AM on June 2, 2012

Hamburger meat. This would require a lot of effort to control for cooking, but I've always wanted to know how the stuff in a tube fares against more expensive options. Would be especially good if you could get a hold of something fancy. Added bonus, the tasting session is actually a filling meal.

(For the record, our winner was Snyder's of Hanover.)
No duh.
posted by scose at 8:34 AM on June 2, 2012

canned soup
pancake/waffle mixes
posted by calgirl at 8:41 AM on June 2, 2012

Single hop IPAs (Whole foods in large metropolitan areas carry them, as well as funky beer stores)

Stinky cheese tasting
posted by lalochezia at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2012

chocolate: Either chocolate chips (actually a very useful tasting if you like to bake) or fancy bars, vertical (different cacao % of the same brand) or horizontal (same %, different brands/places of origin.) I did this for a convalescing friend the other day and it was super fun.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2012

Best answer: With black tea, it's all about the moment when you break out the Lapsang Souchong and then go 'whoa. WHOA.' And then you know what the best black tea is.

Assam is, naturally, which brings us to Indian vs Chinese black tea!
posted by winna at 8:59 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

various cuts of steak?
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 9:02 AM on June 2, 2012

posted by Oriole Adams at 9:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2012

Orange juice. My partner & some friends did a blind taste test of everything from fresh-squeezed, to Trader Joe's unpasteurized, to concentrate.
posted by linettasky at 9:59 AM on June 2, 2012

If you like grilling I think testing various sausages and brats would be fun for father's day, especially if you go to a specialty shop that has lots of different flavors.

Differents brands of nuts.

Water flavor additives - like Crystal Light and that Mio stuff.

Yogurt - Greek vs. Lite, vs. various brands.

Energy drinks.

Store bought salsas (and tortilla chips. El Rey!) Or dip mixes.
posted by catatethebird at 10:00 AM on June 2, 2012

If you do steak cuts, be sure to get Hanger Steak, it's an amazing cut but you don't see it very often.

I nth black tea and chocolate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2012

Yeah, honey. I recently bought some Trader Joe's organic honey, and absolutely love it. I'm convinced it tastes much better than other honey I've had, but whether this would survive a blind taste test would be very interesting.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2012

posted by dywypi at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2012

Ice cream!
Pasta sauce!
Frozen meals! (preferably the same meal by different companies.)
Chocolate chip cookies!
Fast food burgers!
posted by Kololo at 12:01 PM on June 2, 2012

* honey
* fish sauces
* chocolate (chips, bars, single origins)
* root beer
* ground meat
* charcuterie like salumi
* olive oil
* peanut butters
posted by jadepearl at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2012

Gourmet salts are a popular 'thing' now. I don't see the sense in them, and your blind taste could very well prove me RIGHT!
posted by SLC Mom at 12:34 PM on June 2, 2012

Nthing apples. My mom put together a blind taste test for apples for me when I was in high school! It was really fun.
posted by town of cats at 12:52 PM on June 2, 2012

-Sliced cheese
-Fruit punch

And start a blog on this! I'm sure other people would like to know the results.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2012

Oooh, when they come in season, get a variety of pluots! I did this last summer, it was fun seeing which were more apricot-y and which were more plummy.
posted by maryr at 2:01 PM on June 2, 2012

Best answer: - Hot dogs!
- Lunchmeat (Oscar Mayer vs Hillshire Farms, ham, turkey, etc)
- Canned baked beans
- Picnic salads from various delis/markets (macaroni salad, potato salad, etc)
- Frozen french fries
- Frozen tater tots
- Frozen hash browns
- Fast food french fries
- Frozen waffles
- Mustard
- Cocktail sauce
- Pancakes made from different brand batters
- Syrups
- Chocolate snack cakes
- Jams
- Jellies
- Frozen pizza
- Saltine crackers (you'd be surprised; there are some brands better than others)
- White pasta (Barilla versus store brand)
- Granola bars
- Fruit snacks
- Cereals/Oatmeal (frosted flakes, cheerios knock-offs, corn flakes, frosted shredded wheat, etc)
- Canned soups
- Pudding
- Milkshakes
- Chicken nuggets

[This sounds like a lot of fun. I'm curious to hear about how you set up the blind tasting and how to keep it blinded. Do you have a third party involved? Or take turns?]
posted by watch out for turtles at 8:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cheeses - Pick a type say Cheddar or whatever you like and compare mass produced to artisan.
Hot Dog Franks
Olive Oils
Coffees or Teas - brands, bean/leaf types, types of preparation methods
Frozen lasagnes or Pizzas
Types of Potatoes (I've always been curious if there really is a taste difference in spuds).

nthing this would make a great and fun blog - though the comments would probably get heated as people disagreed.
posted by wwax at 1:46 PM on June 3, 2012

Response by poster: Some people asked about our method, so here it is:

We buy identical, disposable bowls or cups at the grocery store. One of us dispenses the test products into the dishes, assigns each dish a number (using a post-it note), and then writes down the number assigned to each dish. Then, the other one of us swaps the numbers for letters and writes down which the number assigned to each letter. This method works well only if the products are difficult to distinguish visually. So, the beverage tests generally worked well. The testing of the macaroni and cheese mixes didn't work as well, as my wife remembered some differences in the noodles. We know it would be better to use a third-person and we will have to do so to test products that differ more in appearance, but friends and relatives have been more interested in joining in the testing than helping us improve the validity of our tests.

Thanks for all of the great suggestions. Tea would be fun, and I'm sure we'd discover that the Yunan province produces the best black teas. I can't stand Lapsang Souchong, so it'd be fun to see if I feel the same way in a blind test. However, we also like the idea of chocolates (though differences in bar shape and markings may cause problems), soda crackers, and hummus.
posted by Area Man at 5:23 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just did a margarita taste-test:

1 part blanco tequila
1 part lime juice
1 part orange-flavored liquor

1oz of each, at most.

We tried triple sec, contreau, and grand marnier as the orange flavors, and came out with a pretty clear winner.

Best served with chips.
posted by talldean at 12:32 PM on June 4, 2012

Use Miracle Berry fruit tablets before tasting. has them.
posted by cherrybounce at 12:37 PM on June 5, 2012

About method: consider triple testing. Find your top two, then fill two glasses with soda A and one glass with soda B. If you can't tell which two are the same, it's evidence that you don't really have a pronounced preference at all. (it works better with a sample size larger than two, obviously, but you might surprise yourself)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:43 PM on June 5, 2012

Soy sauce.

I have converted many, many people into not getting the awful tasting fake european dyed malt & vinegar style soya sauces by pulling out some rice, putting a few drops of that, or say, a light japanese soya sauce on two spoonfuls of rice, and getting them to taste. It doesn't even need to be a blind test.
I had a ex-boyfriend who teased me for bringing my own soya sauce to his place, and preferring to go without rather than 'Highmark' - one bite, he not only went, 'Oh, I see what you mean', he has never bought that style again.

If you figure out which style you like best, your taste buds will thank you in all future meals.

P.S. I add a touch of a japanese light soya sauce to anything with tomatoes. Really brings out that savoury, 'umami' tomato flavour, without being noticeably soya sauce-y. So it won't just be for asian style dishes that your tastebuds thank you for.
posted by Elysum at 1:32 PM on June 6, 2012

I say vanilla ice cream. If you do please include costco's brand and or Trader Joes. But becareful, you'll never go back to regular old Breyers.
posted by beccaj at 12:59 PM on June 7, 2012

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