October 3, 2022—Many people struggle with a sweet tooth despite wanting to eat healthily. However, is sweeter always tastier? A new study 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, 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.
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 the level of sweetness. “7–16% of the reviews we examined indicated oversweetness. 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 oversweetness. In addition, the reviews mentioning oversweetness 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.”
CITATION: Harnessing Food Product Reviews for Personalizing Sweetness Levels. Kim Asseo and Masha Y Niv, The Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot 76100, Israel. Foods 2022, 11(13), 1872; https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11131872
FUNDING: Israel Innovation Authority; Israel Science Foundation.