Carl Willat Suffers From the Willat Effect

Carl Willat, for whom the Willat Effect is named, wrote to me:

I had two cartons of half and half in the fridge, neither had reached its expiration date but one was three days newer. I wondered if I could taste the difference between them, and I found that I could. Neither was sour, but one tasted fresher. I made a batch of vanilla ice cream out of each of them, figuring that together with the other ingredients I was adding (vanilla, egg yolks, cream, salt and sugar) the difference in taste would be less noticeable. After putting both mixtures through the ice cream freezer I tasted them [side by side] and one tasted a lot better. I gave a friend of mine a spoonful of each and she immediately noticed the difference. She correctly identified the good one and described it as tasting fresher and lighter. I can’t bear to eat the less good batch and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to give it away for fear someone will think it representative of what my ice cream tastes like. I’m sure in the past I’ve made plenty of ice cream of this same quality that I and everyone else thought was perfectly acceptable, even delicious.

The fascinating part is “can’t bear to eat the less good batch”. Same thing with me and tea: In the last half year or so, I’ve made hundreds of side-by-side comparisons of tea. I now throw away cups of tea I don’t like. I never used to do that.

6 Responses to “Carl Willat Suffers From the Willat Effect”

  1. jeff Says:

    I had an experience with this just this week. I brought a cup of starbucks to a meeting that had a carton of Dunkin Donuts coffee. After having the starbucks the DD tasted awful. I am seeing many more examples with this effect in real life.

  2. Adam Says:

    I am interested in knowing which was the best tasting ice cream. The one made from the freshest ingredients or the one made from the fermented? Is it fermented or just on its way to spoiled. I have also noticed this effect, especially with coffee, and it’s not always the one that I assume to be the “freshest”.

  3. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    Then there’s something that I would call the reverse Willat effect. I recently bought a new brand of kim chee that, at first, tasted much better to me than my usual brand. But when I compared them side-by-side, the two brands tasted remarkably similar to me. See also:
    Double-Blind Violin Test: Can You Pick The Strad?

  4. Brian Says:

    Hi Seth,

    I wonder what your thoughts are about when we should and should not avoid the Willat effect. On the one hand, nicer things are nice, but on the other I don’t want to need the best of everything. Looking at the Willat Effect next to the Hedonic tredmill what do you think is optimal? I already can’t stand normal chefs knives, produce, yogurt, speakers, music, movies, and books!

    - Brian

    Seth: In my experience the Willat Effect both increases (tea) and decreases (sake) consumption. Of course when it decreases consumption it decreases enjoyment — since I don’t drink sake, I no longer enjoy it. But I don’t miss sake, there are plenty of substitutes. So, in my experience, there has been no serious downside. The upside is really noticeable: I do side-by-side tea comparisons every day.

  5. Kirk Says:

    I’m tied in knots in a fierce debate with myself as to whether I should continue with the comparison tea tasting. You see, I had grown bored with a regular black tea (organic Assam, brewed 2.5 minutes, served with cream). A month ago I tried another round of tea comparison with a variety of samples, and the winner was the one I had settled on three years ago. But it’s still kind of boring. Given this state of boredom with black tea, several years ago I started making chai tea out of a random blend of spices, grinding the spices myself with a granite mortar and pestle. And the tastes have been reasonably pleasurable, like adding fermented foods to soups and steps. But as I contemplate taking on a half-year investigation into what makes the best chai blend, I have to ask myself, “Do I really want to shun all those other almost-good-enough blends?” On the other hand, at the end, I’ll have the perfect chai blend.

  6. dearieme Says:

    You give the inferior ice cream to the cat. Life isn’t all that complicated.