Sunday, September 5, 2021

Are Mysteries Like Chocolate - the Darker the Better? by Molly MacRae


A breakfast table discussion and unscientific taste test. 

Try these at home – they’re safe!

Plus, an exciting bonus opportunity for chocolate lovers! (A Ghirardelli contest!)


Researcher’s update, September 5, 2021: This experiment took place fourteen years ago. I stand by the results, but welcome input from readers in the comments.

Further update: Magna Cum Murder, where the discussion and tasting occurred, has morphed into Prime Crime at the Columbia Club. The 2021 conference has been postponed and will now take place April 1-3, 2022. 

photo by Alexander Stein from Pixabay

Are mysteries, like chocolate, the darker the better? Medical and nutritional studies in recent years do convince me that dark chocolate offers health benefits (see below for links to study reports.) But how many people actually prefer dark chocolate? And what about mysteries of the noir persuasion? Are readers more captivated by stories digging into a character’s psyche than the cozy world of knit one, purl two, and the daily grind of cat-loving baristas? Curious, I set out for the wilds of Indiana, in October 2007, to find out.

Location, date, and time: Muncie, Indiana, Saturday October 27, 2007, 7:00 a.m.

Cover: acting as one of nine table hosts for Magna cum Murder’s Breakfast Resolution session.

Bait: four samples of quality chocolate, containing increasing percentages of cocoa, tantalizingly arrayed on a white linen tablecloth.

Strategy: sit quietly and wait for the unsuspecting. And wait. And wait. . .

Do you know how hard it is to get people to eat chocolate at seven a.m.? Eventually, six people did join me, possibly because I looked lonely or harmless.

Of the seven now sitting at the table, three demurred but four acquiesced and ate the chocolate. The samples ranged from a namby-pamby 40% cocoa content (basic milk chocolate) to an invigorating 85% cocoa. To prevent bias, the samples were unlabeled. After tasting all four, subjects voted on their preferences, though one cheated and voted twice (that was me.) The following graph shows the results.


Chocolate Bar Graph

Even accounting for the cheater, who voted for both 71% and 85% cocoa, three out of four people preferred dark over milk chocolate in this blind and completely reliable taste test – a resounding endorsement. But what of dark mysteries? Are they also so clearly preferred?

Having gained the trust of my tablemates by speaking softly and using only non-threatening gestures, not to mention plying them with chocolate, I next asked them to define “dark mystery” and encouraged them to share their feelings about the genre. The gist of that exchange can be summarized in four bullet points. (Opinions stated are not necessarily those of this researcher.)

´  Dark mysteries troll the baser instincts.

´  Dark mysteries are more authentic and morally complex than cozies.

´  They are not necessarily graphic, but are harsher, grittier, and have a strong sense of violence.

´  Humor and a happy or satisfying ending are possible, though cynicism abounds.

 The discussion was interesting and friendly. Participants variously sipped coffee, tea, or juice and enjoyed warm muffins and bagels from the breakfast buffet. Though opinions differed, no one resorted to harsh or gritty language. No one pulled a machete or gun. Cautiously, so as not to disrupt this cozy atmosphere, I asked for a show of hands. How many preferred dark mysteries? The results are seen in the following pie chart.


Pie Chart

I had two final questions for the group before letting them dash off to the first panel sessions of the day. How dark is dark enough? And how dark is too dark? With very little further discussion they decided mysteries can be as dark as you want, as long as there is redemption at the end, but for either mysteries or chocolate, when they are too dark they become unpalatable.

So, there are the results of my study, not earth shaking by any measure, but as satisfying to me as a square of Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark® Midnight Reverie® 86% cacao chocolate.

Speaking of Ghirardelli’s, at the beginning of this piece I promised an exciting bonus opportunity for chocolate lovers. Here it is – your chance to win one of three grand prizes in the 2021 The FeedFeed – Ghirardelli Contest. The sponsor wants to prove that “Ghirardelli Makes S’mores a Bite Better,” so show them your best s’mores made with Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares. But hurry, entry deadline is September 8, 2021.

 Links to reports on nutritional studies of dark chocolate:

 “Dark Chocolate” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

 “7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate”, July 27, 2021

Molly MacRae writes the award-winning, national bestselling Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries and the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. As Margaret Welch, she writes for Annie’s Fiction. Visit Molly on Facebook and Pinterest and connect with her on Twitter  or Instagram.


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

So funny! Good to know Magna Cum Murder is rescheduled for April. I'm a dark chocolate fan and prefer traditional mysteries to lighter fare. Justice is served and a different kind of order is restored.

Kait said...

This is hysterical. Love the pie chart - isn't that what you always wanted to present to your teachers in math class! I'm a dark chocolate lover, current favorite - Lindt with sea salt. I don't have any in the house right now (wonder why) so I can't check the cacao count, but I'll sacrifice myself and buy more to check. :)

Shari Randall said...

I'm a dark chocolate fan (60% is my favorite) so I guess I like my mysteries a bit on the dark side? Thanks for the smiles, Molly. That pie chart made me laugh out loud!

Molly MacRae said...

Thanks everyone!

KM Rockwood said...

As someone who likes milk chocolate and spends a fair amount of time in Hershey, not to mention that I pass by the Dove factory whenever drive anywhere, I have to admit that I like the "lighter" mysteries. Or at least the less graphic ones. One of my favorite all-time authors was Margaret Yorke, who wrote some pretty dark "light" psychological crime stories. Not mysteries; there was seldom any question about who was the baddie. I find reading them to be like watching a train wreck. You pretty much know what's going to happen, and that it's not going to be good, but you can't stop watching.