Many people find the food in marketplaces to be too sweet, as per a new research which analysed nearly four lakh food reviews posted by customers to gain real-world insight into the food choices that people make.
“This is the first study of this scale to study food choice beyond the artificial constraints of the laboratory. Sweet was the most frequently mentioned taste quality and the reviewers told us that human food is over-sweetened,” said study lead author Danielle Reed from Monell Chemical Senses Center in the US.
Published in the journal of Physiology and Behavior, the study examined 393,568 unique food reviews of 67,553 products posted by 2,56,043 Amazon customers over a 10-year-period.
To identify words related to taste, texture, odour, spiciness, cost, health and customer service, the researchers used statistical modelling programme in machine learning and computed the number of reviews that mentioned each of these categories.
The focus on product over-sweetness was striking as almost one per cent of product reviews, regardless of food type, used the phrase “too sweet”.
When looking at reviews that referred to sweet taste, researchers found that over-sweetness was mentioned 25 times more than under-sweetness.
They also found that sweet taste was mentioned in 11 per cent of product reviews, almost three times more often than bitter. Saltiness was rarely mentioned, a somewhat surprising finding in light of public health concerns about excess salt consumption.
Seeking to better understand individual differences in how people respond to a given food, the scientists also looked at responses to the 10 products that received the widest range of ratings, as defined by the variability in the number of stars the product received. They identified two factors that tended to account for polarising reviews related to a product: product reformulation and differing perspectives on the product’s taste.
With regard to taste, people often rated the sweetness of a product differently. Response to a product’s smell also contributed to differences in opinion about a particular product.
“Genetic differences in taste or olfactory receptor sensitivity may help account for the extreme reactions that some products get,” said Reed. “Looking at the responses to polarising foods could be a way to increase understanding of the biology of personal differences in food choice.”
Together, the findings illustrate the potential uses of big-data approaches and consumer reviews to advance sensory nutrition, an emerging field that integrates knowledge from sensory science with nutrition and dietetics to improve health. Moving forward, similar methods may be used to make informed choices related to personalised nutrition, thereby making healthier food choices.