What makes food sound tasty? Two UH researchers took to Yelp to find out

Published: Jan. 13, 2016 at 7:54 PM HST
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Yelp reviews are a part of modern dining. And good reviews are good business for eateries.

But what makes good eats sound delicious on Yelp?

That's what two University of Hawaii information science researchers – Weranuj Ariyasriwatana and Luz Marina Quiroga – wanted to find out as part of a study that could be useful for food marketers and businesses -- and maybe even a few foodies.

The researchers looked at 250 Yelp reviews for 40 highly-rated Hawaii eateries, picking out "expressions of deliciousness."

Yelp reviews were analyzed for a wide variety of eateries that specialize in different cuisines, from Helena's Hawaiian Food to Bangkok Chef to Alan Wong's Restaurant.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found expressions of deliciousness employ all the senses. Delicious foods weren't just tasty. They had the right consistency, texture and temperature, and they were well-presented.

More interesting was what else reviewers pointed to in describing something delicious.

For example, many reviewers relied on idioms, euphemisms, and swearing to make their points about how tasty an eatery's food was.

For example, there was this gem: "Their butter roll is the bomb dot com."

And this one: "Ermahgahhhhhd why didn't I come here earlier?"

Nearly a third of positive reviews included some reference to cooking: Items were cooked to perfection, fresh or unique.

Some other elements of "delicious" reviews: Big portions, good feelings, indulging cravings, and healthy – and unhealthy – yumminess.

The study was published early online for the journal "Appetite," which specializes in research on the "cultural, social, psychological, sensory and physiological influences" on what we eat and drink.

The researchers said while there are lots of ways to say something's delicious, all of those descriptions fall into eight main categories: sense, culinary affair (how things are cooked), matter of heart, health, testimonial, personal signature (like personal humor), consumer (for example, the likelihood of a diner coming back) and atmosphere or other attributes of the restaurant.

Punctuation also played a role in describing deliciousness, especially exclamation marks, as in this example: "Outstanding meal!!!!!!"

All that's to say there's more to "delicious" than taste alone – and that Yelp reviews might help pinpoint what diners want out of a good meal.

"Yelpers might write reviews as an act of sharing their tastes … as well as acknowledging other's tastes in order to stay active in the communities of amateurs," the researchers wrote. "Writing and reading reviews on Yelp perfectly replace and enhance a spirited conversation about the meal that we all need."

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