Hebrew U. Study: Sweeter Isn’t Always Tastier



A new study from researchers at the Hebrew University shows that sweeter is not necessarily better when it comes to a person’s taste preferences. This news may be hard for some people to swallow since the whole world is convinced that sweeter is always better, isn’t it?

The new study was conducted by student Kim Asseo, under the supervision of Professor Masha Niv, a taste expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. It analyzed thousands of customer reviews of food products sold online, and found that reviewers tend to give lower scores to products deemed “too sweet”. Their study was published in the scientific journal Foods.

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If you live in Israel, or anywhere in the Middle East, then this may not be so surprising to you. This is because in these areas salty and bitter tastes are often preferable. For example, in Israel Middle Eastern salty cookies are quite popular.

The team studied roughly 560,000 reviews of 31,000 food products sold on the leading online marketplaces Amazon and iHerb and found that 10% of the reviews refer to the products’ sweetness. The researchers then used machine learning and natural language processing to categorize the responses by level of sweetness. “7–16% of the reviews we examined indicated over sweetness. This is important because customers who complained about products being oversweet gave them significantly lower scores (one star less) than did customers who did not complain about over sweetness. In addition, the reviews mentioning over sweetness came from different customers and only for some of the products those customers tried, rather than from ‘serial complainers,’” shared Niv.

One of the ingredients that most frequently led to reviews citing oversweetness was the artificial sweetener Sucralose. “Food companies that make candies, snacks, and soft drinks must also pay attention to the demand for products that are less sweet,” added Asseo. “This is important not just for public health reasons (supplying members of the public who prefer it with food that is less sweet and is healthier), but also for the food companies themselves, so that they can boast a healthier product line and sell these healthier products to customers who actually find them tastier.”

Niv concluded that “despite popular opinion, it is not the case for everyone that sweeter means tastier. There is an opportunity here to diversify the levels of sweetness in products and to create healthier versions that are more closely tailored to the preferences of certain customer groups.”