By Mike Pomranz
Updated September 23, 2014
The University of Arizona

What can millions of food-related tweets teach us? That our assumptions about regional eating may not jibe with reality. Kentuckians have a surprising affinity for tacos, folks in Maine are always carrying on about durian and residents of the Great Plains of North Dakota are incredibly interested in flan.

A research team from the University of Arizona engaged in the Twitter study from October 2013 to May 2014, grabbing nearly 3.5 million tweets having one of seven meal-related hashtags (like #dinner or #snack). These tweets were then sorted by location where possible (leaving about 500,000 tweets in the study) and analyzed for food-related words.

The assumption was that “many latent population characteristics can be directly predicted from this data.” That means researchers hope to be able to analyze characteristics from obesity rates to political leanings from your food tweets. Along those lines, the study presents a map of the “most distinctive food word per state” (after normalizing for words that were common across all states). The results range from obvious (Idahoans tweet about “spuds”) to intriguing (Alaska is into “tarragon”?)

Even more fun is the resulting interactive map that can provide all sorts of interesting insights. For instance, as a beer enthusiast, I was able to compare states that tweeted about “ale” versus states that tweeted about “lager.” According to the resulting map, only Michigan and Kentucky were more likely to discuss lager.

The study shows not only that we are what we eat, but also that we are what we tweet!