Pâté and Dog Food – can people tell the difference?

I came across a very amusing academic paper entitled ‘Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?’ from Michael Cameron’s blog Sex, Drugs and Economics. It was published in the journal ‘American Association of Wine Economists’.

Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman’s Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse.

After fully disclosing the aim of the experiment – to evaluate the taste of dog food -18 subjects volunteered. Subjects were college-educated male and female adults between the ages of 20 and 40.

The five sample dishes, A – E, were presented to subjects with a bowl of crackers (“Table Water Crackers,” Carr’s of Carlisle, UK). The identity of the samples, unknown to the researcher, was as follows.

  • A: Duck liver mousse.
  • B: Spam.
  • C: Dog food.
  • D: Pork liver pâté.
  • E: Liverwurst.

Subjects were asked to rank the “tastiness” of the samples relative to each other on scale of 1 (best) to 5 (worst). They were instructed to taste all of the spreads, in any order and as many times as necessary, in order to make a sound judgment. After the rankings were recorded on data sheets, subjects guessed which of the five samples they believed was the dog food.

Ranking order

dog-food-1 The dog food was ranked the lowest by 13 of the subjects whilst the duck liver mousse was rated the best of the five samples by 10 subjects. Between these extremes, the majority of subjects ranked spam, Pork liver pâté, and liverwurst in the range of 2nd to 4th place. However if you consider which of the samples they believed was dog food the results were very different.

Which sample is dog food?

dog-food-2 Although subjects disliked the taste of dog food compared to the other meat products they were no better than random at identifying dog food among the five samples. The two sets of results seem to be paradoxical as 13 of the subjects identified dog food as the worst in terms of taste but did not guess that sample C was dog food – only 3 out of 18 identified dog food. It seems that the subjects do not enjoy eating dog food but are not able to distinguish its flavour from other meat products that are intended for human consumption.

You can read the full paper below:

Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?

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