Why Children Don’t Like Broccoli and Cauliflower: It Turns Out it’s Not That Simple

Children are not particularly fond of vegetables anyway. And cabbage is one of their biggest hates.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are undoubtedly very healthy vegetables. But because of their bitter taste, most children openly dislike all these members of the brassica family.

A matter of taste, you may say, but an international group of scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Cooperation Organization thinks otherwise. And to understand why children dislike these vegetables so much, they conducted a whole study.

Features of brassica vegetables

The classic bitter taste of brassica vegetables is believed to be due to compounds called glucosinolates. When chewed, these molecules are converted into the substance isothiocyanate. It is this substance that is responsible for the pungent taste that many people dislike.

However, the study shows that a different process is responsible for the negative reaction in some people. The fact is that cabbage also contains a compound called S-methyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide (SMCSO), which, when mixed with another enzyme present in vegetables, releases sulfuric odors. This enzyme is also produced by oral bacteria. Since each person has different levels of these bacteria, a group of Australian scientists decided to investigate whether it is associated with subjective preferences for brassica vegetables.

About the study

  • Scientists from the CSIRO’s Commonwealth Scientific and Applied Research Organisation involved 98 children aged 6-8 years and one of their parents in the experiment.
  • They took saliva samples from all participants and mixed them with cauliflower powder, analyzing the volatile gases released.
  • The researchers found significant differences in the levels of sulfur compounds. At the same time, children and their parents showed the same levels, indicating that each family has common oral microbiomes.
  • In the end, the scientists found a clear correlation between the children’s strong dislike of brassica vegetables and the high levels of volatile sulfur compounds produced by their saliva.

Brassica vegetables can be taught to eat

In addition to the saliva study, the researchers also asked parents and children to rate the smell and taste of raw and steamed cauliflower and broccoli. Children who produced high levels of sulfur dioxide were more likely to say they did not like the smell or taste of cauliflower. However, despite the fact that their parents also had similar levels of gas in their saliva, they were not as adamant about these vegetables.

“Sympathy is an experience and something people relate to. You can learn to like vegetables in the same way you learn to like beer or coffee,” said Emma Beckett, a food researcher at Newcastle University who was not involved in the experiment.

Culinary tricks

Given the beneficial properties of these vegetables, there are some culinary tricks you can use to get children to eat broccoli and cauliflower. In particular, you can add a little cheese sauce to them or simply sprinkle hot vegetables with cheese.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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