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Kraft buys Cadbury for $19.5bn. Good news or bad for Cadbury chocolate? Well, Cadbury has been cheapening their chocolate for decades. When Doug'sr Republic performed a Cadbury taste test of five Dairy Milk and five Whole Nut (Roast Almond) bars, it proved that Cadbury is not consistent across borders, that cheap and shoddy ingredients are used in many of their local chocolate plants.

Home / Economics  /
The Changing Tastes of Cadbury Chocolate
Cadbury Dairy Milk

Will the real Cadbury bar please unwrap itself?

[For more chocolate-loving info, visit Doug's Chocolate Republic here.  To see the movie about Cadbury's vast differences across continents, click here]

The British are in an uproar about Kraft's recent bid of US$19.5bn to take over their beloved Cadbury.  They fear their treasured English treats will be turned into revolting American chocolate.   

There's a lot British chocolate lovers don't already know.  Cadbury has already been turned into 'revolting' American chocolate in the United States; in Southeast Asia, into bitter Malaysian chocolate;  and in Australia and New Zealand, into sweet Australian chocolate.  Cadbury has local footholds in many of the countries which constitute the former British Empire, places like South Africa, India, Kenya; and even in countries which weren't a part, like Morocco, Egypt, and Argentina.  The cacao beans may be imported from some equatorial nation, but the milk, the sugar, the nuts, the fruits, and any other artificial flavors and colors are sourced locally.    

Cadbury taste testThis go-local strategy differs markedly from that of the American chocolate giant Hershey.  Up through my twenties, the famous Hershey Bar tasted the same wherever you tried it, for the very simple reason that Hershey products were only manufactured in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  The Hershey strategy has since changed, and now various Hershey candies are manufactured in the People's Republic of China for sale in other Asian countries.  The Chinese products taste nearly identical to their American counterparts.  I guess it's not hard to duplicate the flavor of bland and bitter chocolate bars which only utilize 11% cocoa solids, the lowest I've ever seen in a confectionary market leader of an industrialized country.

Dairy Milks were around in the US when I was growing up, but not popular.  In the 1970's, Cadbury products were put out in the US by a company named Peter Paul, more famous for its Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars than for handling the US operations of Cadbury.   Cadbury only started to register in my mind as a brand when I spent a year abroad in the UK in the late 1980's.  Anyone resident in the UK who's not lactose intolerant will eventually have his or her mouth intersect with a Cadbury bar. My mouth conditioned from years of eating Hershey bars, I found the creamier and subtler taste of the British Dairy Milks strange. 

I didn't give Cadbury any more thought until I went back to the United States and tried a Dairy Milk there.  It had a completely different taste.  By that time, Cadburys in the US were made under license by Hershey.  If I knew then what I know now, I'd have realized there was no way the British and American versions could taste the same.  There are 140 worldwide suppliers of cocoa beans and derivative products such as cocoa butter and Hershey buys from all of them.  With that many cacao beans floating about and with different food laws regulating chocolate manufacturing, it'd be almost impossible for Hershey to use the identical beans prepared in the identical way in their version.

British Cadbury American Cadbury

Two for the queen, four for the President

In 1994, I began a three-year trip that took me through Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Africa, and southern Africa.  Many of these areas were former British colonies, and being a chocolate lover, I kept encountering Cadbury bars and trying them.   I was not a connoisseur of fine chocolate during those years.  Hershey was still my crude benchmark.  I didn't sample a Cadbury in a new country and mentally compare it to Cadburys consumed in previous locales.  For one, I never really had the chance.  When visiting Egypt in January 1993, I bought the local Cadbury bars. By the time I visited Malaysia in August 1994 and sampled a Cadbury there, I couldn't accurately reflect on how the Malaysian bar differed from the Egyptian one. Too much time had passed between the two tastings to be objective.  And two, I accepted the default stance that one Cadbury bar tastes much the same as any other, like a Big Mac does across international borders.   The American Cadbury might be the one exception since it truly wasn't manufactured by Cadbury. 

I was proven wrong.  In 1996, after having spent over a year in the Indian subcontinent and consuming at least three small Cadbury bars there per week, I flew to Kenya.  I immediately noticed that Cadbury bars there were available in the same tiny sizes and purchased one the very day I landed.  I had become so acclimated to the Indian Cadburys over my long stay that the new bar's differences stuck out.  The Kenyan bars were much richer, creamier, and sophisticated in taste.  I only grasped how poor the Indian version was when presented with something so superior while the Indian tastes were still fresh in my mouth.  No other African Cadbury bar on my journey measured up to the ones I devoured in Kenya.  Not the Zimbabwean bars made under license, which tasted horrendous.  And not the South African Cadburys.

Skip ahead over a decade to December 2008.   I was living in Thailand, snacking on what I deemed to be acceptable Malaysian Cadbury chocolates.  Malaysia manufactures the Cadbury line for all of Southeast Asia.  A rare opportunity arose.  A friend from England was returning to Thailand.  I asked him to bring back a UK-made Dairy Milk bar.   Another friend was returning to Thailand after an assignment in Kenya.  I begged him repeatedly to bring back a Kenyan Cadbury assortment. 

The chocolates all arrived in Thailand at around the same time, and I conducted my first informal Cadbury taste test.   By now I'd developed a chocolate palate.  After seeing a wonderful chocolate exhibit in Chicago ten years ago and noting how much work went into the growing and processing of cacao beans, I took a newfound interest in seeking out higher quality chocolates.   My first informal taste test involved Cadbury Dairy Milks from Kenya, the UK, Malaysia, and Morocco.   The Moroccan bar was an unexpected find.  Inexplicably, one of the Dairy Milks my friend bought in Kenya turned out to be made in Morocco.   None of the four tasted similar to any other.  The Malaysian-made bar scored the worst on every test.  My taste buds had glossed over its rough edges when I ate the Malaysian bars exclusively.  Compared side-by-side with other bars, the inferiority of the Malaysian bar was obvious, just as the Indian bar had been when juxtaposed with the Kenyan one in 1996.   The Malaysian chocolate was chalky, gritty, and waxy.  

A year on, I've had the chance to perform a more diverse taste test.  I was expecting several international visitors for the New Year, each from Cadbury-producing nations.  It took several months of organization, but I was able to gather both Dairy Milks and Whole Nut/Roast Almond bars from the USA, UK, Australia, and Malaysia.   Two weeks before the New Year's Eve tasting, I sent off a hasty e-mail to a former work associate in India, and he mailed me six Indian-made Cadburys.    By New Year's Eve 2009, five nation's Cadbury bars were in my refrigerator's crisper, a total of over 2 kg of chocolate packed into 20 different bars. 

Cadbury AustraliaThis multi-national Cadbury collection might sound impressive to the casual reader, but let me assure you that none of my tasters could have cared less.   My girlfriend hardly eats chocolate.   If Cadbury manufactured an elite edition made of only the world's finest cocoas, she wouldn't be any more eager to savor it than if contained rotten cacao beans from the Spanish colonial era.  My brother shuttled over four USA Cadbury bars but added the obvious:  he didn't give a hoot about the taste test.  My Australian friend carried six large Australian bars over and clarified that he hardly ever ate chocolate.  A Canadian buddy came along for the taste ride, but if we'd been comparing different brands of peanut butter, it would have been all the same to him. 

The collective indifference did surprise me.  How many times do you have the opportunity to compare a brand across its various territories?  Coca Cola is an even more ubiquitous brand than Cadbury, available in two hundred countries and usually bottled locally.   The carbonation and sweetness vary by country.  Although I seldom drink Coca Cola anymore, I'd eagerly compare Coca Cola cans from several countries simultaneously.   Back when I ate Big Macs, I would've loved to do side-by-side taste comparisons of Big Macs from different nations.  I must be unusual.  No one was panting to be part of an intercontinental chocolate tasting of a mid-level chocolate brand. 

The Cadbury taste test I administered was single-blind.   The five different Dairy Milks and nut bars were assigned a number from 1 to 5.   Only I knew the identity of each bar.  The nut version had an N appended to the number, so if 1 corresponded to the Indian Dairy Milk, 1N was the Indian Roast Almond.   I wanted my tasters to view the N bar as an extension of the Dairy Milk version, to see if the added nuts improved the overall taste.  I drew up a taste chart asking the tasters to rate creaminess, sweetness, cocoa intensity, texture, and overall flavor.  I admit it was overkill.   When we finally got around to this taste test, most of us were drunk from a 12 bottle Thai beer tasting we'd performed earlier in the day.

As most of my testers were more interested in nose picking than Cadbury chocolate taste testings, there was not a lot of preconceived biases, though there were some.  Having been to both the UK and India, my brother had high opinions of the UK bar and dreadful opinions of the Indian one.  Interestingly, however, when he rated the bars from best to worst, he assigned the Australian bar the top honors (thinking it was the UK bar) and the Malaysian one the worst (thinking it was the Indian bar).   Amazingly, among my five apathetic tasters, there was some consensus:

Australia Cadbury        The UK and Australian bars ranked in the top two spots for everyone, with more of the tasters agreeing that the UK bars were better.  The UK had more of a floral taste, while the Australian one was creamier.  Australia tried to substitute palm oil for cocoa butter in their version in mid-2009, claiming this was what their customers wanted, a PR spin no one believed.  Customers were disgusted, and the company promised to return to their original recipe.   I'm assuming the Cadbury bars we sampled were made with the cocoa butter. 

Malaysia Cadbury    The Malaysian bar was unanimously panned as the worst of the five, both Dairy Milk and nut versions.  I found the Malaysian bar more reprehensible than I did on the previous taste tests. Its chalky, artificial, and waxy taste was ever more apparent this time around when sampled along with four other nation's bars. 

Cadbury India     The Indian bars must have been revamped in taste since the mid 1990's, when my brother and I had been in India.   They were twice the size of what they used to be and actually tasted like chocolate now.  I'm not implying that the Indians had turned their version into the new Swiss chocolates of Asia.  The Indian bar still got rated second to worst. Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachan has to be getting paid a stackload of rupees for associating his image with this choco-travesty.

Cadbury US     The American bar ranked in the middle.  The American nut version was a mockery of the name.  Magnifying glasses couldn't find an almond in this one, whereas the other country versions, good or bad, contained ample quantities.  The American bars had the most unusual taste of the five bars, and not in a good way, maybe because the other four bars were made by real Cadbury factories using some semblance of the original recipe.  The yawning tasters commented that the Hershey-Cadbury bar was creamy and airy, but with a stale flavor.  In 2008, Hershey began substituting vegetable oil for cocoa butter in many of their chocolates in order to cut costs.   The removal of cocoa butter violates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's definition of milk chocolate, so subtle changes have appeared on the labels of Hershey products with altered recipes.  Products once labeled "milk chocolate" now say "chocolate candy," "made with chocolate" or "chocolatey."  It's unlikely Hershey would've cheapened the Cadbury name more than they already have by omitting the cocoa butter altogether.  But for a company used to putting less cocoa solids in a chocolate bar than some boyfriends slather off their girlfriends' stomachs with strawberries, it wouldn't surprise me if Hershey were using minimal cocoa solid content in their Cadbury version.

Malaysian Cadbury Cadbury India

Every family has its rejects - Malaysia (left) and India (right)

Kraft's purchase of Cadbury will probably alter the taste of the British chocolate and eventually, all of the chocolates under the Cadbury banner in whatever countries they're made.  Mind you, Kraft really isn't the problem.  Cadbury has been cheapening their bars for years.  One avid British Cadbury eater comments in the London Evening Standard of the richer, denser Dairy Milks he consumed as a kid in 1956-57.  Some Cadbury-producing countries -- namely the ones with no chocolate manufacturing tradition --  are further along the cheapening curve than others, explaining much of the great differences in taste between all these bars that are sold under the same name.  Australia recently reduced the size of their bar from 250g to 200g, without a change in price, using identically sized packaging so that consumers wouldn't notice, then cheapened the recipe with less cocoa solids.  Sluggish Kraft may be tempted to hasten their streamlining (i.e factory closures, overseas manufacturing, recipe alterations).  Yet Cadbury would have done this without the buyout.  They're already doing it!

So don't cry over Cadbury.  I and my tasters have already done so when sampling some of the more undesirable bars.  This, my chocoholics, is the world of cheapened corporate chocolate. 

UPDATE (March 10):   More Cadburys from untested nations landed on my doorstep. These bars didn't get here as smoothly. They were mailed via various national and international postal systems and finally entered my abode as liquid melted chocolate before I confined them to the refrigerator for rehardening. Bars from Australia, the United States, and Malaysia were retested, as former benchmarks, to see where the new bars fell on the scale.

Our first entrant was a Cadbury Dairy Milk and a Fruit & Nut bar from Canada. It tasted nothing like the American bars south of the border. Both the Canadian and American bars seemed to source the same cocoa, but the Canadian bars had a richer aftertaste and melted smoothly on the tongue. The girlfriend rated it above the Australian bars. I thought it was a toss up and ranked it lower, at #3. Inferior to the Canadian treats but superior to the American ones were a Cadbury Dairy Milk and a Roast Almond bar from Argentina. These bars contain traces of vanilla flavoring, making them taste different than all the other Cadbury bars I've tried. These bars were sweet but not as sweet as the Australian bars and had a lighter cocoa taste. The Argentines obtained the #4 rank. The Americans were demoted to #5, India to #6, and Malaysia to #7.

UPDATE (June 1):  Call me the prophet I am. In the original article, I wrote that "sluggish Kraft may be tempted to hasten their streamlining" through things like factory closures. Cadbury Kenya seems to be a casualty. A friend revisited Kenya recently and looked for delicious Kenyan-made Cadbury bars to take back with him. None were to be found. Kenya is now importing Cadbury bars made in the Middle East. The Middle East should stick to oil and Kenya to chocolate.

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