Do you eat the red ones at all?

Red smarties coming out of the box in the shape of a heart

After the lovely small wedding we attended last week, Tom and Harry hosted the minister and his wife, as well as J. and me, at a fancy schmanzy restaurant for a celebratory dinner. Over the course of our meal, we had no end of engaging conversations.

At times, we shared our most private thoughts. Tom mentioned, for example, that, when he was younger, he had hated the taste of red Smarties. He tried to convince us all that red Smarties tasted different from the others, at least when he was a child. He was quite insistent. He was so animated I wondered whether red Smarties were so abhorrent to him that he refused to eat them.

As a chocoholic, I was curious about Tom’s assertions. I had to find out for myself if there was any truth to what he was saying. Thank goodness that clinical psychologists like me are trained in both research design and clinical practice. I could tell you with my eyes closed exactly how to assess Tom’s hypothesis. And, yes, my eyes would have to be closed.

In mere moments, I had designed the perfect study. I picked up a box of Smarties at the grocery store a few days later. (They happened to be on sale.) I coerced J. into being my assistant as well as the second subject in my study. I would pay her in–this is obvious–Smarties.

First I divided the Smarties into two groups: the red ones vs. everything but red. Then I sorted the Smarties into groups of three, each group having one red Smartie. I turned my back to J. and asked her to hand me a group of Smarties one at a time in a random order. When I received the first Smartie, I forgot to close my eyes as I brought my hand to my mouth. What a dummy. I kept my eyes shut through the remaining trials.

J. agreed to participate in my study but she refused to be blind to the colour of the Smarties she was eating. I recall she said, “Just give me the darn Smarties.” She didn’t believe knowing the Smartie’s colour would influence her taste perception at all. She wasn’t taking the study as seriously as I was, apparently, and her responses may be biased as a result.

In any event, the findings were as I expected (I’ve just added experimenter bias to subject bias): neither of us disliked the taste of the red Smarties. We also concurred that the red Smarties didn’t taste any different than the others. Over the course of the brief study, we didn’t spit any red Smarties outย in disgust; we savoured all of the Smarties because Smarties are inherently yummy.

My interest in Smartie research did not stop there, however. I began to wonder what proportion of Smartie lovers suck them very slowly vs. crunch them very fast. (I, for one, am a slow Smartie sucker. Ah, the taste of smooth melting chocolate…but I digress.) This burning question has prompted a second study.ย If you would like to participate, contact me at 1-800-SMARTIEPANTS. Compliant subjects only need apply. That means no Smarties for you, J.


9 thoughts on “Do you eat the red ones at all?

  1. Although I also made fun of Tom initially, it turns out that the original red dye for smarties and other foods was colchineal, made from a type of beetle, and typically tastes bitter (also used in lipstick – as I recall he said red smarties tasted like lipstick to him – not sure why he knows how lipstick tastes….but that’s for a different post I suppose). Anyhow, now they use a different dye because people complained about the bitter and the fact that bugs were in your candy….so hard as it is for me to say, I think Tom may have been…..right.


    • Harry: In but a few days, you have mastered the cardinal rule of successful marriage: acknowledging when your partner is right. To this day, I find this very challenging. You also reminded me of a cardinal rule of research design: complete a thorough literature review before finalizing your study’s hypothesis. I clearly did not do so, and hence my findings are questionable. Thank you for your feedback. I will approach my research of such important topics more carefully in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚


      • Annie, as a scientist I disagree with you: you’re findings are absolutely correct, but only for the current Smarties and for the populaton with your tastebuds. That’s why method sections and information on supply sources are so important. Maybe you can set up a similar test with M&Ms? I’m willing to be your new assistant.


      • Dr. PMH: Thank you for validating my findings while qualifying their limitations. Given your superior attunement to the complexities of scientific research, I suggest that, rather than being my assistant, you assume the role of primary investigator. Complete with first authorship, of course, and payment in multi-coloured M & Ms. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. The real question (although not relevant anymore since I am married) is do the green ones really do what everyone says they do? I look forward to your research on THAT topic!


  3. If you do an M&M test don’t do it on the new caramel ones, they are sickly sweet. However, the peanut butter M&Ms would be worthy. I am not a huge fan of the chocolate ones but then I am not a huge chocolate fan. You already know what my weakness is. KG


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