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Study of Amazon Reviews Finds Many Foods Are Overly Sweet Interview with:

Danielle R. Reed, PhD Associate Director Monell Center Philadelphia, PA

Dr. Reed

Danielle R. Reed, PhD
Associate Director
Monell Center
Philadelphia, PA What is the background for this study?  

Response: We saw an opportunity to learn about the sense of taste by studying several hundred thousand food reviews from Amazon. We were interested in how taste ‘rates’ on the list of things people mention when reviewing food items.

I had a friendly rivalry with my colleague Joel Mainland who studies smell (I study taste) to see which was most important, taste or smell. It turns out we are both right, people mention ‘taste’ much more than ‘smell’ but ‘taste’ is also a proxy term for overall food flavor, the combination of taste, smell and texture.  We were not expecting that people also complain about taste, specifically oversweetness. What determines how something is deemed to be ‘too’ sweet? 

Response: A food is oversweet if reviewers tell us that is their experience; we found that reviewers were much more likely to say a food was ‘too sweet’ rather than ‘not-sweet enough’. This leads us to wonder whether in an attempt to please some people, in general foods are oversweetened for most people. What are the main findings?

Response: There are four findings:

  1. First, ‘taste’ is king, beating other points that food might be evaluated, like price.
  2. Second, foods are too sweet for many people and this was a common consumer complaint.
  3. The third point that surprised us was that people mention sweetness much more than saltiness. Hypertension and salt-reduced diets are health concerns for many people yet sweetness and not saltiness is much more on the minds of reviewers.
  4. We also learned that some foods are polarizing – love it or hate it. These food wars may arise because not everyone tastes foods in the same way. We wonder if these differences are due to genetic differences among people. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We can learn about human food choice by studying reviews which capture how people feel about food and what they want to communicate about it to others. When people talk about food, they talk about taste and sweetness. People can be extremely opinionated about food taste and berate others who don’t taste food in the same way. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We are excited to link food reviews to medical records and genotype information to see what we can learn from a big data perspective about human food choice, health, and genetics.

No disclosures.


Danielle R. Reed, Joel D. Mainland, Charles J. Arayata. Sensory nutrition: The role of taste in the reviews of commercial food products. Physiology & Behavior, 2019; 112579 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112579

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Last Updated on June 25, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD