The Monell Chemical Senses Center seems like just about the coolest place you could work—besides The Takeout, of course. Based in Philadelphia, the Center’s mission is to unite multidisciplinary scientists for the purpose of decoding the way humans smell and taste. Though our olfactory system is running all day every day, basic questions about its mechanisms still exist, and Monell has tried to find answers to them for 45 years. This is all to say it sounds like a neat institution, and some of the Center’s recent research is especially fascinating.
Scientists there ran data analysis on nearly 400,000 Amazon reviews for packaged foods written over a 10-year period. The reviews spanned more than 67,000 products. The research, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, found that most Amazon reviews found foods to be too sweet. Nearly one percent of all product reviews, regardless of the type of food, contained the phrase “too sweet;” over-sweetness was mentioned 25 times more than under-sweetness.
“Sweet was the most frequently mentioned taste quality and the reviewers definitively told us that human food is over-sweetened,” Danielle Reed, the study’s lead author and a behavioral geneticist at Monell, said in a press release about the study.
The team also found that biological factors may explain why different people can have widely varying responses to the same foods. To examine this, researchers analyzed 10 foods with the highest variation in star ratings; they found that the two biggest factors in this ratings gap were product reformulation and individual people’s perspectives on a product’s taste. While that may seem obvious, the authors note that perceptions of sweetness especially varied among reviewers, which points to a biological, olfactory reason some people are more sensitive to sweetness than others. So next time your friend is enjoying an ultra-saccharine beverage you couldn’t begin to stomach, just chalk it up to differences in what your olfactories are up to.