It’s a scene most parents probably know all too well: your family is at the dinner table and your kid is refusing to touch the few pieces of green veggie you’ve dared to include on their plate. After unsuccessfully trying to get them to give the broccoli or brussels sprouts a chance, your kid is suddenly in hysterics—and you’re rolling your eyes because this response feels like overkill. It’s just broccoli, right?
Well, it turns out that those tears may actually be warranted, because for some children you’re forcing them to eat something that tastes like rotting meat. Yup, according to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, certain bacteria in our saliva can interact with veggies of the Brassica family (which includes go-tos like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts) to produce “odor-active sulfur volatiles” that taste, well, disgusting. Sorry kids!
Now, this connection between saliva and broccoli has been researched in previous studies, but this new study is the first to include children among the test subjects. It’s also the first to compare the kids’ results with those of their parents. The study found that while the amount of “salivary volatile production” (i.e. how much your saliva reacts to these veggies and creates the gross-tasting stuff) varies among different people, parents and children tended to have similar levels. So if you disliked broccoli when you were little, chances are your kids will also put up a fight when it’s their turn to eat it.
And it’s no wonder that people who produce a lot of the gross-tasting stuff dislike broccoli because that chemical, which is a compound known as dimethyl trisulfide, is found in large quantities in decomposing flesh. So depending on your saliva, broccoli and cauliflower literally has the same chemical make up as rotting meat. Are you gagging yet? What’s worse is that the study found that over time, as the saliva interacts with the veggies, the amounts of dimethyl trisulfide increase while the amounts of other, more pleasant-tasting chemicals decrease. That means that if your kid chews slower because they don’t like the taste, that bad taste is only getting more and more disgusting the longer they chew.
Luckily, long-term exposure helps people get used to the flavours, which is why adults with high volatile production rates can still enjoy eating cruciferous veggies. And we’re sorry to say that this means parents should keep giving their unwilling kids broccoli and other veggies as much as possible so that eventually they can acquire a taste for them, too. Because even when there isn’t a rotting flesh flavour involved, kids become more willing to eat foods they’re wary of after many exposures (even if some of those exposures are just visual, seeing a small portion on their plate can help.)
That being said, when they say they’ve had enough, it’s a good idea to listen and not push them to clean their plates. Because one can only handle so much rotting meat flavour at a time, right?