Taste Test

An online article discusses how wine tasting is bogus.  (Warning: Language isn’t safe for work!)  Blind taste tests have shown that even professional wine tasters cannot distinguish between basic types of wine, such as red and white.  In fact, the very same wine in different bottles will get very different scores based on the taster’s prejudices.  The wine from bottles with the fancy and expensive labels will get better scores than the same wine decanted from a bottle with a cheaper price tag.

fancy wine cellar

This subject really didn’t get my heart racing, as I never drink …. wine!  But what did grab my attention was the following sentence in the rather long rant…

“A 2006 study, published by the American Association of Wine Economists, found that most people can’t distinguish between pate and dog food.”

This caused me to wonder.  How many people taste the food they give their pets, anyway?

pit bull enjoying a worm

Maybe I’m a breed apart.  One of my mottos is “I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first!”  So far, it is a behavior guideline which has done well by me.

I’ve never owned a cat for any length of time, but it seems I have always kept dogs.  Although I don’t regularly snack on food sold in the pet aisle of the grocery store, I have given it a taste once or twice.  For the purposes of this review, we can divide dog food into two basic categories: wet and dry.

Dry dog food, also known as kibble, has never thrilled me much.  It tastes pretty much as it smells, so if you can detect an odor that is very close to what you will experience if you pop a kernel in your mouth and crunch away.   Texture seems to depend on price, with the cheaper stuff hard as rock candy and the more expensive food moist like a chocolate chip cookie.  My dogs seem to like it well enough, though.

Wet dog food is the stuff that comes in cans.  Some varieties are merely ground up meat with a texture much like pate, while others resemble the very same stews sold in cans a few aisles over, yet intended for human consumption.

minced dog food

dog food like a stew

This might horrify some of my readers, as the most common impression of pet food is one of rotten meat packaged for lesser creatures by unscrupulous corporations to squeeze out the last few pennies from organic material better thrown away.  After all, it is well known that dogs can handle much higher levels of bacteria in their food than human beings, and so can thrive on stuff that would leave us bedridden from food poisoning.

That might have been the case in the past, but it isn’t true now.  As this Wikipedia entry on dog food notes,

Canned food is commercially sterile (cooked during canning); other wet foods may not be sterile.”

So we are pretty safe as long as we stick to cans, and avoid the semi-moist stuff.

The ground stuff which looks like pate is pretty much that.  It tastes a bit gamy, much like the braunschweiger sold in many American supermarkets.  The major differences are that the dog food is not smoked, has a lower salt content, and has a texture that is a bit rougher and less creamy than the sandwich spread intended for humans.  Another difference is that there are little flecks of grit detectable in the dog food, which are bits of ground bone.

Do I find it surprising that people couldn’t tell the difference between standard pate and dog food?  Not if the tasters never tried dog food before.  The two products are close enough so the dog food would seem to the uninitiated like a new pate brand looking for a market.  If someone already knows what dog food tastes like, however, then the differences should be pretty obvious.

The stew-like dog food compares to canned stews intended for human consumption pretty much like the ground dog food compares to pate.  The dog food stew has a gamy tastes as if it was made from organs instead of traditional meat, and it boasts less salt.  The big difference is found in the cubes of meat, which are very obviously not meat at all.  They have a very soft texture, more like firm gelatin, and they seem to be flavorless except for what is lent by the gravy.  Inside the cubes are the same flecks of grit found in the ground dog food, and these flecks are also ground up bone.

I didn’t know what these cubes were made of until this morning, when the Wikipedia post I consulted for this article informed me that …

“Grain gluten and other protein gels may be used in wet dog food to create artificial meaty chunks, which look like real meat.”

Oh.  Well, that it explains it, then.

Back when I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were numerous claims in the media about pensioners who were forced to eat dog food.  The logic was that those poor old people, grown too feeble to work for a wage and now living on a fixed income, could only stave off starvation by turning to the less expensive and less healthful food canned for pets.  These supposed horror stories were always paired with appeals to increase the welfare state.  (“Do it for grandma!”)

I’ve always known that eating canned dog food would probably be better for the elderly than many of the choices intended for human consumption.  Dog food is very high in protein, and wouldn’t be a bad choice to supplement a diet consisting mainly of starches and other cheap bulk foods.  Not only that but there is less salt and fat by volume in dog food, which would help rein in high blood pressure and obesity.  This lack of taste enhancers also means dog food is much less pleasing to human palates than the stuff made for people, but there are always trade offs in life.  It might not taste very good but it also is very far from the rotten, maggot-infested mess that many people assume.

Not that anyone would have to resort to dog food unless they wanted to, of course.  It is obvious from buying both pet foods and stuff for myself that the costs are pretty comparable.  Canned pasta containing meat is often sold for a lower price than the canned food I buy for my dogs, and foods which uses beans such as tamales can be had for even less.  And, of course, low grade meat products such as hot dogs can be found which are even cheaper still.  Anyone who buys pet food in order to get the protein they need is simply wasting money.

Some of you reading this might assume that I routinely make a meal of the same foods I serve my dogs, which isn’t the case.  I have sampled what they eat a few times just to see what it was like, and could not hold forth on what brands or recipes of dog food taste the best to a human being.  So please refrain from sending me emails asking how the brand you use stacks up against their major competitor.

7 Responses to “Taste Test”

  1. knirirr says:

    Perhaps anyone wanting opinions on dog food quality from human tasters should ask the tabs.

  2. Alan J. says:

    Interesting blog post, James. You’re right of course, that modern day dog food is actually a good source of sustenance. The key issue is simply getting over the psychological barrier of, you know, eating dog food. Our caveman ancestors, however – or anyone whose ever been through a few weeks of survival school training, would have gladly eaten a can of ‘Might Dog’ and then chased it down with a can of Dinty Moore stew and not really cared about the difference.

  3. dagamore says:

    Let me guess, Dinki Di Dog Food rated highly in this test, but you just left it off?

  4. jed says:

    I think Dinki Di isn’t available in the states. I certainly haven’t seen it, though that certainly isn’t definitive. Anyways, those folks down under will eat vegemite, so I don’t know that we can judge Dinki Di based on the apparent high regard for it that we’ve seen portrayed.

  5. Stepinit says:

    Reminds me of a study or test by a detergent co. done a few years ago.
    they made three boxes of different colors, blue, blue and yellow, yellow
    the results were blue was to harsh, yellow was not strong enough, blue and yellow was just right. but it was the same detergent in all boxes.
    Color does matter.
    sincerely stepinit

  6. Fyooz says:

    the “nicer” wet food in your pic reminds me strongly of the main courses in modern MREs.

    Which, I confess, are pretty damned good.

    And I’d put my homemade chicken pate up against any cat food.

  7. Wilson says:

    Not a post I expected to see. Good nonetheless.

Leave a Reply