How does this shape taste?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will be aware that I am rather fond of chocolate. On previous occasions, I have cataloged the health benefits of chocolate and I proposed a novel chocolate based Internet business [in which nobody has yet felt the urge to invest]. I am always on the lookout for interesting information and stories about my recreational drug of choice.

So, my eye was caught by some recent controversy about a very well established brand …

There is an extremely well known British chocolate manufacturer, who has been in business for well over a century. A while back, there was much discussion and concern when they were acquired by a very large, multi-national food manufacturing group. Most people were concerned that their favorite confection would change – and not for the better.

Some recent news reports seemed to suggest that these fears were well founded. After making square-ish shaped chocolate bars for more than 100 years, this manufacturer decided to relaunch their products in a new shape, with nicely rounded chunks. The idea was to give a contemporary look and improve the melt-in-the-mouth experience. The fact that the bars were much the same overall size, with no change in price, but weighed noticeably less, was not mentioned in the promotion.

Very soon, the complaints started rolling in. Internet forums were buzzing. The chocolate did not taste the same! It was considered to be too sweet by long term fans, who wanted the old recipe back. The manufacturer was very surprised, as they had not changed the recipe at all, only the shape.

They conducted some experiments using a single batch of chocolate, half made into square bars and the other half into rounded shapes. In blind tasting trials, the rounded shapes were rated as sweeter by the vast majority of subjects.

So, it seems that our taste buds are somehow sensitive to the shape of our food. I have always felt that food enjoyment is as much about texture as taste, but I certainly had never foreseen this relationship. I am sure that there are marketing folks in the food industry – both chocolate makers and elsewhere – scratching their heads to find an application for the new-found knowledge …

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