Is your child a supertaster?

Have you ever wondered why one of your children pulls a face and spits out broccoli, while the others happily munch away? Well, it could be because they were born a ‘supertaster’.

People with the supertaster gene have far more taste buds than the rest of us, and are exquisitely sensitive to bitter compounds found in certain foods and drinks.

Top of the list of bitter-tasting veggies are the cruciferous vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rocket, kale, radishes and watercress. What these have in common are a naturally occurring chemical called glucosinolate, which releases bitter-flavoured mustard oils when the vegetables are chopped or chewed. Glucosinolate is also responsible for the sulphur molecules you can smell during lengthy cooking.

Cruciferous veggies may be particularly nutritious (their compounds can help reduce cancer risk), but to the 20% of the population who are supertasters they taste pretty bad. In fact they taste 60% more bitter than to non-tasters, so it’s unlikely your young supertaster will embrace plain broccoli on his plate.

Fortunately there are some tricks to improving the flavour. You can help override the bitter taste buds by using flavours that stimulate other taste receptors, such as herbs, spices and lemon juice. Pepper and other hot spices are particularly good at this.

Also try serving the offending vegetable with a cheese sauce or scatter over grated cheese to help mask the bitterness. Dips can work well – lightly steam some broccoli, and serve with a dip such as hummus. Otherwise skip the cruciferous veggies for a few years (supertasters won’t grow out of it, but sensitivity lessens with age) and serve other healthy veg instead.