Taste test

by Neil

This is a friend’s favorite pet anecdote, from Liquid Intelligence, Dave Arnold’s 2014 deep dive on cocktails.

Lime juice is an extremely common cocktail ingredient, and no self-respecting mixologist would use the stuff in the green plastic squirt bottles. Intuitively, we might expect fresh-squeezed lime juice to be the best — it’s fresh! But Dave Arnold had the idea to actually run a taste test, and:

Not surprisingly, the day-old juice always loses. Surprisingly, the lime juice that is several hours old usually wins over lime juice that is superfresh.

But why? He continues:

My subjects for these tests were predominately professional American bartenders. Most good American bartenders use lime juice that is juiced at the beginning of the shift and therefore is several hours old during service. My cocktail compatriot Don Lee ran this same test with a bunch of European bartenders, who typically juice their limes à la minute. They tended to choose fresh lime juice over any of the other batches. Best, therefore, may just be what you are used to.

In this situation, at least, good taste” emerges from the practical properties of the medium. Hours-old lime juice is not a priori the best, but once you learn unconsciously that the taste of hours-old lime juice is associated with high quality, it comes along for the ride.