Red snapper, tilapia, pate, dog food … can anyone tell the difference?

Yesterday’s breathless revelation that many restaurants use cheap tilapia in place of expensive red snapper raised a larger point: Would most people know the difference?

Both are white fish, both have a firm texture and, while the flavors may be different (red snapper actually has flavor) underneath a mountain of butter and other spices, it can be difficult to tell one from another. I don’t think I could.

The American Association of Wine Economists put a more disgusting premise to test — could average diners distinguish between liver pate and dog food? Liver pate is considered a great delicacy, costing up to $100 for small amounts. Dog food is dog food. I’ve seen cans of Old Roy costing as little as 33 cents. The premise of the experiment was simple:

“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 … In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food.”

The result of the experiment (PDF) was that 83 percent of the subjects couldn’t tell. So while the idea of dog food may seem gross, the product itself is “palatable.”

Not that I’m about to go testing dog food. No, that’s what Stephen Colbert is for:

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Categories: Dining, Food & Drink