Hershey’s chocolate bars have a different reputation overseas than they do in America. Writing for The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi compared the taste of American chocolate to, “sawdust that’s been drowned in sugar and soaked with baby vomit.” But bias alone doesn’t account for this perception; certain ingredients in Hershey’s milk chocolate contribute to its controversial flavor.
The sour notes in America’s most popular chocolate are commonly attributed to butyric acid—a compound found in spoiled butter and, yes, vomit. Hershey denies adding it to their product, and the ingredient isn’t listed on the label, but that doesn’t mean it’s not part of the recipe.
Butyric acid is also present in milk, so all chocolate made with dairy contains it in some amounts. It may be more perceptable in American chocolate due to how the milk is treated. A process known as lipolysis breaks down the fatty acids in fresh milk. This makes it shelf-stable while also producing more butyric acid—and with it a tangy, acrid aftertaste. Hershey has been accused of treating its milk through controlled lipolysis, but because its formula is proprietary, this is hard to confirm. (If lipolysis is part of the process, the “factory tour” ride outside Hershey Park doesn’t cover it.)
There are other reasons why Hershey’s chocolate tastes different than Cadbury. American chocolate tends to contain less cocoa and more sugar than comparable candy from Europe. The milk in European chocolate is also heated at higher temperatures, which produces caramelized notes missing from products in the States.
There are exceptions, but most cheaper chocolate made in the U.S. is attempting to replicate the taste made famous by Hershey, so most flavors that are characterized as “American chocolate” can be traced back to their formula. Even chocolate from some European brands has been known to decline in quality when being produced for American consumers. That’s why Cadbury bars taste different here than they do across the Atlantic. Here are more facts about the British candy brand.