Does your child hate broccoli? Chemicals in their MOUTH may be to blame! Enzymes in brassica vegetables react with oral bacteria and produce unpleasant, sulphurous odours, study finds

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  • Researchers extract chemicals and odors found in vegetables like broccoli
  • They observed different enzymes and chemicals from raw and cooked food.
  • their parents and their children smelled the various chemicals extracted
  • They also tested the microbiome found in the mouths of adults and children.
  • Children with higher levels of the enzyme were more likely to dislike broccoli

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It’s a struggle many parents regularly face at dinner time, and now a new study may finally shed light on why so many kids dislike broccoli.

Researchers in Australia found that chemicals in children’s mouths may be behind children’s dislike of Brassica vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts.


According to experts, enzymes produced by vegetables react with bacteria in the mouth and produce an unpleasant, sulfurous odor.

While the parents had similar levels of enzymes in their mouths, their response to broccoli is not as bad, which the team says can result from learning to accept the food.

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Chemicals in children’s mouths may be behind their dislike of broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts, according to a new study on Brassica vegetables. stock image

From Broccoli to Cabbage: All You Need to Know About Brassica Vegetables

Brassica is a genus of plants including cabbage, broccoli and other vegetables, also known as cruciferous.

Edible varieties include: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, swede, turnip and seeds used in the production of canola oil and mustard.

There are over 30 wild and hybrid species in cultivation today.

The genus is native to the Mediterranean and temperate regions of Western Europe, Asia.

Many wild species grow as weeds, especially in North America, South America and Australia.

The dislike for cabbage or broccoli is the result of an enzyme that interacts with the tissues of the mouth, producing a foul odor.


The new study found that the same enzyme is produced by bacteria inside some people’s mouths, and that the taste of broccoli depends on the level of the enzyme.

Previous research found that adults’ saliva contained different levels of the enzyme, but it was unclear whether children had different levels as well, or what affected their food preferences, according to the team.

Damien Frank and colleagues from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Canberra, who conducted this research, wanted to investigate differences in sulfur volatile production in saliva from children and adults.

Dr Frank said it is well known that there is a difference in taste preferences between adults and children following innate likes and dislikes.

“Children reported a stronger preference for sweetness and a much lower acceptance of bitterness than adults,” he explained.

‘Some bacteria naturally present in human saliva may further increase the production of sulfur volatiles in the oral cavity, potentially affecting the taste of the mouth and the perception of Brassica vegetables.’

Using a technique known as gas chromatography-olfactometry-mass spectrometry, they identified the main odor-active compounds in raw and steamed Brassica vegetables, including cauliflower and broccoli.

They had 98 groups of parents and children, aged six to eight, to rate the odors produced by different compounds that came from the herbivore.

Dimethyl trisulfide, which has a rotten, sulfurous and rotten odor, was the least preferred odor by children and adults.

The team then mixed saliva samples with raw cauliflower powder and analyzed the volatile compounds produced over time.

According to the researchers, there was a wide range of levels of sulfur volatile production from person to person—some very high, some very low.

These are all members of the vegetable family that also includes cabbage, collard greens, kale and turnips, and are often left on the side of a child's dinner plate.  stock image

These are all members of the vegetable family that also includes cabbage, collard greens, kale and turnips, and are often left on the side of a child’s dinner plate. stock image

They found that the children had the same levels as their parents, which could be explained by similar microbes in the mouth passed from parent to child.

Children whose saliva produces high amounts of sulfur volatile dislike raw Brassica vegetables the most, but this relationship was not seen in adults, who may learn to tolerate the taste over time.

Researchers say these results provide a new possible explanation for why some people like Brassica vegetables and others (especially children) don’t.

The results have been published in the American Chemical Society. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The Microbiome: Does It Regulate Everything?

Researchers now estimate that a normal human body is made up of about 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion bacteria.

These are important in getting energy from our food, regulating our immune function, and keeping the lining of our gut healthy.

There has been a recent explosion in interest and knowledge in the microbiota as we now recognize how essential they are to our health.

A healthy, balanced microbiome helps us break down foods, protects us from infections, trains our immune system and manufactures vitamins, such as K and B12.

It also sends signals to our brain that can affect mood, anxiety and appetite.

An imbalance in the gut is increasingly linked to a number of conditions. Last year, scientists at the California Institute of Technology found the first-ever link between the gut and Parkinson’s symptoms.

The composition of our gut microbiota is partly determined by our genes, but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors such as our diet, alcohol consumption and exercise, as well as medications.



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