Is the Post’s Egg Expose All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Eggs from free-roaming backyard chickens taste more or less indistinguishable from store-bought eggs, Tamar Haspel writes in the Washington Post today. Everyone loves a taste test with counterintuitive results , but was Haspel’s blindfolded experiment a little too straightforward? Pat Curtis, a poultry expert at Auburn, told Haspel that the results were in line with egg science:

The egg industry has been conducting blind tastings for years. The only difference is that they don’t use dish-towel blindfolds; they have special lights that mask the color of the yolks. “If people can see the difference in the eggs, they also find flavor differences,” Curtis says. “But if they have no visual cues, they don’t.”

But when people eat eggs in regular life, they do get visual cues. So they experience flavor differences. As Raffi Khatchadourian wrote in the New Yorker this past November, in an article about the artificial-flavor industry:

Flavor is a cognitive figment. The brain fuses into a single experience the results of different stimuli registered by the tongue, nose, eyes, and ears, in addition to memories of previously consumed meals. For reasons that are not fully understood, we perceive flavor as occurring in our mouths, and that illusion is nearly unshakable, as is made clear by our difficulty identifying, with any reasonable specificity, the way each of our various senses contributes to the experience. In 2006, Jelly Belly, the candy manufacturer, produced a jellybean that mimicked the flavor of an ice-cream sandwich. When the company manufactured a prototype with a brown exterior and a white interior, people identified the flavor accurately during a trial, and said that it was a good representation of an ice-cream sandwich. Jelly Belly then made an all-white prototype; many trial respondents found it confusing, misidentifying its flavor as vanilla or marshmallow.

All four kinds of eggs in Haspel’s taste test drew some similar comments to one another: “Bland.” “Low egg flavor.” “Bland.” “Almost dull.” The real lesson for savvy egg consumers ? Don’t eat with a blindfold on.