You’re Not Imagining It Nothing Tastes The Same Anymore
Words: Shamim de Brún
Image: Via Magnum UK
Words: Shamim de Brún
Image: Via Magnum UK
As a child, I eagerly anticipated Sundays and my after-mass pocket money. After a week of making sure I washed my dishes and a morning of pretending to listen to the homophobes preaching, ‘Treat one another how you would like to be treated’, my brother and I would head straight to the shop with sometimes pennies, sometimes cents; occasionally a pound and then two euros if we were good, quiet, respectful children. Which we managed, on occasion, to appear like.
Half of the fun was planning what you would spend the money on. You could go for quantity and get a bag of jellies, a packet of Meanies, Cadet Cola, and an Animal bar. You could be frugal but quality-focused and spend half on something from Cadbury’s, usually a Curly Wurly or a skinny Dairy Milk; then pocket the change for the future. You could not spend a red cent, but we were never delayed-gratification-oriented enough kids for that. You could also go big and spend it all on one big, beautiful purchase. Mine was a Magnum on a sunny day. There was nothing that got me through mandatory Sunday morning mass like dreaming of the Magnum I could buy afterwards.
To buy a Magnum meant spending a week’s worth of pocket money in one day. It was a special treat permitted only on that particular day of the week. The day of our lord and saviour: pocket money.
I decided to go all in on a Magnum last week. It was a small attempt to relive the joy of those memorable summer days on a dreary January one. An attempt to recapture childish joy through nostalgic taste. To my disappointment, however, the Magnum didn’t quite live up to its former taste. I thought I was going mad. Then I worried I was aging out of tasting things. But then I thought the problem couldn’t possibly be me. It had to be the Magnum itself.
Not only was it definitively smaller, the chocolate was thinner and didn’t have the satisfying crack when I bit into it. The crack they literally marketed it with for years! The ice cream also left an odd aftertaste. I bet they used more artificial vanilla than vanilla bean. It was a massive disappointment. The familiar flavour and one true joy of my childhood had changed. Irrevocably.
I couldn’t prove that the recipe had changed. I couldn’t find a legit packet from the 90s that I could compare and contrast with the one in my hand. What I did find, however, were many many people wondering the same thing. They were opining its decline in Tesco reviews, on Reddit, on independent product review sites, and, of course, on TikTok. In fact, you can see on the Tesco reviews when the change must have occurred because up till May 2021, it was five stars out the wazoo, and its almost exclusively one-star takedowns since.
This shift in taste isn’t limited to Magnums, though; other Irish childhood favourites also seem different. Most fizzy drinks also don’t taste the same since most of them have seemingly pivoted to sugar alternatives in a quest to avoid the sugar tax. Even many crisps don’t seem to deliver the same left-right they once did. I had thought that this was ‘just getting a bad bag’. But after a few attempts to get that flavour punch I used to get from bacon fries or even salt and vinegar Tayto, I had to concede that something has been shifting. The packets aren’t just getting smaller. The actual recipes are changing. And no one is letting us know.
A glance at discussions on platforms like Reddit reveals that I am not alone—thousands of people in Ireland and the UK have noticed the declining quality of our beloved snacks.
“Ritz crackers. For some inexplicable reason, maybe around five years ago the crackers went from being nice and firm and dippable to nowadays easily crumbling to bits with even the lightest dip,” an active Redditor complained.
“You could bite into a Twix and feel your teeth travel through a heavy layer of caramel,” another Redditor lamented, before adding, “Now they snap in half and taste like a sugar cookie with some chocolate on it.”
When ingredient costs rise, companies resort to adjusting recipes as a calculated response to consumer preferences: whether consumers would be more accepting of higher prices or a different flavour. Unfortunately, these modifications are often undisclosed, making it challenging for consumers to detect alterations in their favourite snacks. But the basic consequence is that these changes fuck up the foods. Or at least for those of us who remember the joy of how they once were.
Journalists and vigilant consumers have uncovered such changes, providing insight into this subtle transformation in the food industry. For instance, last year, the food-processing giant Conagra reduced the vegetable oil content in its Smart Balance margarine, eliciting consumer outrage when the change in flavour became apparent. Such instances, where consumers voice their discontent and prompt companies to revert to the original formulas, are exceptions rather than the rule. Many companies have been tweaking their recipes for years, with limited consequences. Most people legit just won’t notice and that’s where the company wins.
Skimpflation has become more pronounced, with the Panny D becoming the Cozzie Living Crisis and teetering on the verge of a full-blown recession if Irish unemployment stats are anything to go by. Some companies just raise the price and forego any association with being good value. Others opt for shrinkflation, but that is increasingly noticeable – especially if you like a Toblerone.
Then there are the multi-billion dollar companies that continue to modify their recipes to use cheaper ingredients so their profits don’t suffer. Thus far, there seem to be few if any conglomerates who sacrifice price for the good of the world.
So, there ya have it. You’re not going mad! Your tastes aren’t changing as you ‘age’ in your twenties or thirties. The corporate profit-mongers are changing the recipes and ruining your childhood favourites. The dastards.