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Children May Not Like the Bitter Taste of Vegetables


Updated April 25, 2014

A study published in 2005 by researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia suggests that a gene called TAS2R38 may be responsible for children's aversion to bitter flavors.

There are two variants of the gene; one is bitter-sensitive and the other is not. Every one of us carries two of these genes in our deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). If one or both of these genes is the bitter-sensitive genes variety, we are more likely to dislike bitter tastes.

The study included 143 children and their mothers, and over 79 percent of the children had one or two copies of the bitter-sensitive gene present. Interestingly, the presence of the bitter-sensitive gene made a bigger impact on the children's food preferences than those of their mothers.

The mothers' tastes in foods seemed to be influenced more by race and ethnicity of foods than their own genetic makeup. In a sense, the moms had grown out of the childhood aversions they had to bitter foods. It must take a while though, because the ethnic foods had little impact on the kids who had the bitter-sensitive genes.

If this study holds true, then about 80 percent of children aren't going to be thrilled about eating broccoli and cauliflower because vegetables tend to be a little on the bitter side. It may be difficult to convince your children to eat more vegetables if they are over-sensitive to bitter flavors.

Helping Your Picky Eater

You don't need to look longingly at those 20 percent of youngsters that do like vegetables while cringing at your own bitter-sensitive kids' reactions. You can disguise the bitter taste with sauces and toppings, or you can choose starchier or sweeter vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and sweet potatoes. Hopefully as your kids grow up, their aversions to bitter flavors will ease, and they'll start to enjoy their vegetables.

Recipes for Picky Eaters

Our About.com Guide to Cooking for Kids has the following tips for helping picky eaters:

This study may help us understand why kids don't like vegetables, but remember that vegetables are still an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Keep serving vegetables to your picky eaters -- just be sure to add a side dish of patience.


Mennella JA, Pepino MY, Reed DR. "Genetic and environmental determinants of bitter perception and sweet preferences." Pediatrics. 2005 Feb;115(2):e216-22.

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