Dog food or pate? Who can tell anymore?


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Can you tell the difference between your dog’s food and, shall we say, a higher-cost alternative?

The researchers behind a new study found that, despite what we’ve been led to believe about the taste of Alpo or Mighty Dog, many people can’t. That study, scheduled to be released tomorrow by the American Assn. of Wine Economists, tested 18 volunteers on their ability to tell between fancy fare like pâté and some less elegant-sounding alternatives like dog food and Spam. Our colleague Jerry Hirsch explains the results of the blind taste-test:


‘We have this idea in our head that dog food won’t taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case,’ said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study. Goldstein said the tasting demonstrated that ‘context plays a huge role in taste and value judgment,’ even though researchers warned the participants that one of the five foods they were going to taste was dog food.

The five samples came from a wide price range and were processed to have a similar consistency. The foods were duck liver mousse, pork liver pâté, two imitation pâtés -- pureed liverwurst and Spam -- and Newman’s Own dog food.

Of the 18 participants, 15 misidentified the substance they believed to be dog food. (Eight thought the liverwurst was dog food, four thought the Spam was, and one identified the duck liver mousse as Newman’s Own canine cuisine. Two even identified the high-end pâté as dog food.)

But 72% of the participants rated the actual dog food as the worst-tasting pâté.

--Lindsay Barnett