An experimental study of the Holy Cannoli

An experimental study of the Holy Cannoli

An experimental study of the Holy Cannoli

The hunt for the greatest dessert in Boston

May 24, 2022 | Ben M.

Aeronautics and Astronautics


The Cannoli is a form of dessert, which, in its most basic form, includes a pastry shell wrapped around a sweet ricotta filling. Historians have long debated the origin of the cannoli. Some say the cannoli originated during the carnival seasons in Palermo, a city on the island of Sicily, Italy. Others say it started in Boston, Massachusetts[citation needed]. A recent model has found the Cannoli to be Boston’s best dessert [1]. The cannoli has been the desert of choice for both cities for as long as anyone can remember. The more relevant debate, however, is which city has the ~best~ cannoli. 

Late one night, after returning from the banana lounge and on their way to scout out another free food tip, a few grad students, who typically think about one of two things, free food and research, wondered, “WHERE is THE holy cannoli?” This article aims to bring that question closer to being answered by determining the best cannoli in Boston, which can then be compared in a head to head match against the best cannoli in Sicily. 


The study was conducted in the North End of Boston on the evening of July 16, where the 3 premier cannoli shops of Boston were compared in several categories. Bova, Mike’s, and Modern were compared in a super objective and scientific ranking system. Each shop was scored out of three points for 13 categories, which are listed in Table 1. 

Four underpaid graduate students from the MIT department of Aeronautics and Astronautics conducted the self-imposed study after waiting in 3 separate Cannoli lines. The participants included first time cannoli eaters as well as cannoli veterans. Two chocolate chip cannolis were purchased from each shop (Figure 1), which were inspected visually and cut in half so that each participant ate approximately 0.5 cannolis from each shop (the participants did not each eat 3 cannolis each because they were “trying to be healthy.”)

At the peak of hunger and anticipation, after having to wait a full 5 minutes staring at the cannolis, to discuss the visual categories, the cannolis were slowly enjoyed and critiqued (Figure 2), and my mouth is watering just reflecting back on it. 

Results & Discussion

Table 1. Scoring matrix.

 BovaMike’sModernCategory Weight
Box Appearance12310
Cannolo presentation12310
Cream texture1235
Cream taste2315
Shell texture21310
Shell taste1235
Chocolate chip size/taste2335
Overall taste12320
Cream to shell ratio32310
Weighted Score220290330 
Cannoli with chocolate chips on the edges.

Figure 1. The 3 Cannolis, from left to right, Bova, Mike’s, and Modern. 

A table covered in partially-eaten cannoli.
Two people wearing t-shirts sit at a table covered with cannoli after dark.

Figure 2. The participants of the study prepared the samples for the experiment.


In Conclusion, Modern was the best Cannoli, based on the ranking system presented. The participants enjoyed all 3 cannoli’s, but there can only be one winner. The participants would also like to make it known that they would like to participate in more dessert studies, especially ones that involve getting paid to go to Italy, and are actively seeking funding for the future work stated below. 

Future work may include a similar study that directly compares the best of Sicily with Boston’s Modern, so we can determine which city makes the better cannoli Future work should also assess the prevalence and etymology of the word cannolo (singular of cannoli), which to the author’s knowledge has no place in the vocabulary of anyone. 


The author would like to thank MIT who partially funded the experiment through the standard graduate student stipend. 

Suggested peer reviewers:

Anyone except Mike from Mike’s Pastry, and Bova from Bova’s Bakery. 


[1] Author A. A Bayesian approach to multi-objective optimization of Boston desserts.

(link to spreadsheet

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