Sweetness in Food Contexts

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About
Although overall most people highly like foods that are dominated by sweetness, our diets do not consist of foods that are overtly and predominantly sweet. Nor do we like unlimited amounts of sweetness—for each food, there is a “just right” level. From infancy onward, our experience of sweetness is usually within foods or drinks that have a characteristic sweetness level. Hence, our response to sweetness in foods becomes highly context-dependent. We are less likely to hear the complaint from children that a food is too sweet, but as we become more familiar with a particular level of sweetness within a food or drink, that level becomes the preferred one. Most tea or coffee drinkers will have an opinion about how much sweetener to add. If you take no sweetener, then any is too much. If you take two spoonsful, then any variation up or down will leave you dissatisfied. In other words, “appropriate” sweetness levels are learned.