brussels sprouts

Don’t like vegetables? It could be genetic

Your lifelong dislike of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts may now have a scientific explanation. According to a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s yearly meeting, certain people are genetically predisposed to find bitter vegetables like the ones mentioned above distatseful or altogether inedible. The gene in question has been dubbed the “bitter gene”; those who have it, “super-tasters.”

“The person who has that genetic propensity gets more of the sulfur flavor of, say, Brussels sprouts, especially if they’ve been overcooked,” University of Connecticut professor Valerie Duffy explained. “So that vegetable is disliked, and because people generalize, soon all vegetables are disliked. If you ask people, ‘Do you like vegetables?’ They don’t usually say, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t like this, but I like these others.’ People tend to either like vegetables or not.”

It’s not all about taste, however.

“But it’s also smelling through the mouth and the touch, texture and temperature of the food,” Duffy said. “It’s very difficult to separate out taste from the rest. So when any of us say the food tastes good, it’s a composite sensation that we’re reacting to.”

The study found that people with the “bitter gene” are 2.6 times more likely to eat less vegetables than those without the gene. Jennifer Smith, a registered nurse who is a postdoc in cardiovascular science at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine, said the goal of the study was to learn more about the reasons behind certain people’s reluctance to eat foods that have been proven to improve health.

“We wanted to know if genetics affected the ability of people who need to eat heart-healthy foods from eating them,” Smith told CNN. “While we didn’t see results in gene type for sodium, sugar or saturated fat, we did see a difference in vegetables.”

But there’s hope yet for these super-tasters. Duffy says that there are a number of ways to reduce the bitterness of vegetables and make them more palatable. For example, next time you’re cooking Brussels sprouts, try adding some fat or garlic, or try roasting them in the oven, which can have a sweetening effect.