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In the previous post, we reviewed authentic sushi to remind us the true pleasure of eating natural and high quality food. Subtraction plays an important role in sushi to emphasize the subtle deliciousness in natural ingredients, and our ability appreciate it.

But in our daily life, authentic sushi is the rarity since our world is filled with food with strong flavors and more quantity. Those intense food tricks our body system and we can no longer align “deliciousness” and the right amount of nutrients we should ingest to stay healthy, or to increase our odds of survival. We overeat and become sick.

What can we do to apply subtraction on a daily basis to start aligning deliciousness and the right amount of nutrients? Sugar, the most wide-spread, concentrated and addictive form of deliciousness today, can tell us a lot.

AISSY, a Tokyo-based taste consulting firm advising various food-related businesses, conducted an analysis on how much sugar is contained in cookies and chocolates sold in the US and  Japan. It used a globally patented “Taste Analysis Machine,” which replicates a human’s taste sensing system and translates “deliciousness” into computed results (often as a radar chart) using the five tastes (sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and umami) as variables.

AISSY’s tasting machine “LEO”LEO

AISSY selected and compared 10 products from the US and Japan, and measured the sugar content using their Taste Analysis Machine. Just to be clear, none of the products were from “healthy” or “lean” product lines. Popular brands people buy for pure enjoyment were chosen.

The results were significant. Whereas Japanese products resulted in a sugar level of 3-4, American products resulted in a level of 4-5. Level 3 translates to a sugar content of 3%, 4 translates to 5.1%, and 5 translates to an alarming 9%.

Sugar conent

Sugar content of 10 sweets sold in the US and Japan (Data provided by AISSY)

This difference suggests that deliciousness is completely subjective. In one region, sugar concentration at level 3 is considered delicious, but in other region, you need to add more sugar to make consumers happy. It suggests that there is no global standard for a food to be considered delicious. It’s not up to the food. It’s up to the person who eats it.

What can we say about the relationship between the amount of sugar and our taste buds’ ability to find deliciousness? If we revisit the Yerkes-Dodson law (that shows the empirical evidence that we perform best when our arousal level is at an optimal level) we reviewed in the previous post, we almost want to assume that our taste buds can find the deliciousness when the food contains the right amount of sugar, and that’s when we feel the greatest satisfaction from the food. But since the cookies sold in different regions contain different level of sugar, most likely it is not the case.

It makes more sense to assume that the amount of sugar has negative impact on the performance of our taste buds. The sweeter a cookie becomes, the more relaxed and lazy our taste buds become (their level of arousal shifts leftward). Pampered, they are now clamorous and ask for more sugar to send “yes this is delicious” signals to the brain, which is confused and no longer knows what the right amount of glucose or sucrose the body has to ingest.

One of the risks we run by altering the standards of deliciousness as a result of pampering our taste buds is obesity. Intense sweetness tricks our taste buds, which tricks our brain in turn, and we end up ingesting too much sugar. Although we are not making a direct correlation between sugar content in cookies and the rate of obesity here, it is helpful to see how obesity plagues certain regions more seriously than the others. Japan is among the countries with lowest obesity ratio and the US is ranked the highest, according the survey conduced by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).


Good news is, the test by AISSY shows that it won’t be a problem to reduce the amount of sugar in food by half, because there are people in other parts of the world who find it delicious. It’s just the matter of re-adjusting our taste buds. But why on earth is sugar so deceiving?