Taste Test: Swiss Chocolate vs. Made in China

woman eating chocolate
Knowing the origin of a bar of chocolate — whether it's from Switzerland or China — sets up participants' expectations and seemed to influence how much they enjoy the candy, a new study shows. (Image credit: stockxpert)

Swiss chocolate's reputation influences how people rate it in taste tests, a new study shows. When consumers are told that they're about to eat a chocolate bar from Switzerland, they prefer it to that same bar tagged "made in China."

If they are told about the Swiss chocolate bar's origin after they taste the candy, however, they say they prefer the Chinese chocolate.

Researchers from Babson Collegein Wellesley, Mass., gave participants the same squares of Trader Joe's brand chocolate. Half of the participants were told that the chocolate was made in Switzerland, while the other half were told it was made in China. [The Health Benefits of Chocolate]

"When they were given the country of origin before tasting, the students liked the chocolate more when they were told it was from Switzerland," the authors write in a recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.  "This was expected because Switzerland has a strong reputation for chocolate whereas China does not."

The knowledge set up participants' expectations and seemed to change their gustatory experiences. When people learn the country of origin (or price in another study) before they sample the chocolate it influences their expectations. When they are told the chocolate is from Switzerland, they expect it to taste good and when they are told it is from China they expect it to taste bad. So they like the same chocolate more when they are told it is from Switzerland.

When some of the participants were told the "origin" of the chocolate after they had eaten it, the opposite was found:  They rated the China chocolate as better tasting than the Swiss bar.

"When they learn country of origin afterwards, it tells them what the sampling experience should have been like," study researcher Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Babson College in Massachusetts, told LiveScience. "When they are told it is from Switzerland, it is not as good as they would have expected it to be, so they like it less.  Similarly, when they are told it is from China, it is not as bad as they would have expected it to be, so they like it more. "

The researchers got the same results when they conducted a similar study using price instead of country of origin, with participants expecting the more expensive chocolate to taste better.

Next, the researchers went to a Boston-area liquor store to test people's reaction to the same wine. Customers were told the store was conducting a blind taste test of a new wine. After tasting, half of the customers were told that the wine was from Italy, and the remaining customers were told that it was from India, a country not known for producing fine wines.

"As in previous studies, people liked the wine more when they were told it was from India after sampling compared to when they were told it was from Italy," the authors wrote.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.