Are there Bugs in Your Pasta? A Blind Taste Test

This Calls for a Blind Taste Test!

Could you tell if your pasta sauce had bugs instead of beef? 

According to the guys at One Hop Kitchen, makers of the world's first mealworm Bolognese, the answer is no:

But we're not naive enough to believe some promotional video. We had to investigate ourselves in the most objective, scientific manner we know: 

A blind Bolognese taste test. 

The Proceedings

Blind taste testing in the name of science. 

Blind taste testing in the name of science. 

On a dark, rainy November evening in Vancouver, nine people and seven Bolognese sauces gathered in our cozy little apartment to bring closure the question everyone had been asking: Which Bolognese is best?  

One-by-one, the sauces, mixed with a plain whole grain Costco spaghetti noodle, were served to the tasters, who waited with forks in one hand and pens in the other.

Not knowing anything about the sauces, they bravely consumed each dish. And to ensure each taster's feedback was independent and unbiased, they were strictly told to keep all comments and reactions to themselves.

Once all seven sauces were consumed, the tasters ranked them from first to worst.

Then the discussion erupted. 

And the results were as unexpected as the ingredients. 

The Sauces

Before sharing the results, let's look at the sauces that competed for blind taste test glory. 

Meet the Bolognese blind taste test competitors.

Meet the Bolognese blind taste test competitors.

  1. The Supermarket Special

    This Classico beef Bolognese has a four star rating on its website. Would our tasters' feedback be as positive?


  2. The Carnivore

    This hefty Bolognese wasn't shy about showing off it's goods. Loaded with chunks of beef, bacon, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms, would anyone care about its lack of veggies?


  3. The Veggie Bomb

    Featuring a caucophony of veggies and spices including eggplant, zucchini, curry, thyme, garlic, and onions, this sauce was created to fool tasters into thinking it had meat. Could it? And could it outshine its beefy and buggy brethren?


  4. The Traditional Veggie

    A more traditional tomato sauce with chunks of tomato, onion, and the usual spices, this sauce was the "yin" to The Carnivore's "yang". Could yin win?


  5. The Experiment

    If we grind up dried Heilu and mix it in with the Supermarket Special, would anybody notice the difference?


  6. The Mealworm

    The impetus for the whole shebang. We know bugs are better for the environment, but are they better for our taste buds too?


  7. The Mix

    An equal parts mix of the Supermarket Special, the Veggie Bomb, and the Carnivore. Is compromise the road to our hearts, or mediocrity?

Beef on the left, bugs on the right. They look the same... but how about the taste? 

Beef on the left, bugs on the right. They look the same... but how about the taste? 

And the Winner Is...

Below, with select comments from the tasters, are the consolidated rankings of our Bolognese blind taste test.  

  1. Winner! The Carnivore

    "Scent of pork... more depth of flavour..."
    "Too sweet. I liked the meat and mushrooms."
    "Heavy, delicious."


  2. The Mix

    "Tasty. Nice consistency of meat and spice. Good taste."
    "I talked while eating it. Did not take the time to note the ingredients."
    "I like the taste and texture of the meat"


  3. The Supermarket Special

    "Small 'meat' particles. Very nice standard sauce."
    "Subtle, not overpowering".
    "This is tasty. Definitely beef and pork combo."
    "Light. Not too meaty. Good."


  4. The Veggie Bomb

    "Really like this one. Little chewey. Neat flavour."
    "It's really weird. No."
    "Smaller pieces of vegetables could have been nice. What's the meat?"


  5. The Traditional Veggie

    "Super chunky, tasted good, not my style. Had one particular flavour."
    "Watery. Flavor would be good if it was more concentrated."
    "A little bland. Maybe because there's no meat?"


  6. The Mealworm

    "Mere standard Bolognese."
    "It's good. Full stop."
    "Not into it. No. Gross"
    "Too acidic. Kind of funky taste going on here."
    "Similar to (The Supermarket Special)"
    "Tasty, flavorful."
    "Darker. Not all right."


  7. The Experiment

    "Chalky cheesy... has a bit of a nutritional yeast texture... quite organic taste.. this might be the bugs one"
    "Cheese. Meatless. Unrecognizale bitter taste. Decent."
    "Flavorless. Smells a little like armpit."
    "Weird aroma. A bit sweet. No veggie?"
    "Slightly grainy. Needs spice or kick." "Sweet."

Conclusion

The results of our blind taste test left no doubt: Edible insects have a lot of work in front of them to dethrone beef from its taste bud title. Sauces containing traditional meat swept the top three spots, while the bug-bearing competitors came crawling in dead last. 

But there is hope for the insect food faction. 

As you can see in the above table, feedback for the One Hop Kitchen mealworm sauce varied more than any other. While some rejected it for having an unfamiliar taste, most didn't notice, and others loved it. And if one or two people from every group loves their sauce, they have a bright future. 

As for the Heilu Experiment, clearly grinding up dried bugs and mixing it in with an average store-bought Bolognese isn't going to win anyone over. We've got lots of work to do

The status quo may have preserved its perch atop Bolognese mountain for now, but it better not get too comfortable. Convention-defying competition is not giving up. 


More Blind Taste Tests!

We highly recommend you share this post with friends (click to share on Facebook) and try a blind taste test of your own! 

We had so much fun we're already planning our next one. To hear how it goes and not miss out on other exciting forays into the future of food, sign up for our newsletter