Taste preferences start to develop in the womb

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Related tags: Drink innovation network, Nutrition, Food, Eating

If you want your children to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, you might be able to set the perfect example before they are even born, according...

If you want your children to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, you might be able to set the perfect example before they are even born, according to an expert in food and flavour preferences.

Speaking at a Food and Drink Innovation Network seminar on taste last month, Professor Tony Blake of the University of Nottingham's school of biosciences said that there was growing evidence that children's flavour preferences started to develop in the womb.

"There is considerable evidence that some flavour molecules from the mother's diet can reach the baby in utero," he said. "As the baby grows and develops, it experiences more and more olfactive stimuli because it regularly takes amniotic fluid into its lungs, which passes over the olfactive epithelium. Especially in the last few months before birth, the food eaten by the mother has a strong influence on those flavours which will be preferred by the baby after birth," added Blake, who specialises in the psychology of flavour perception.

"One must ask whether any edible material that provides nourishment without any ill effects can be intrinsically disgusting," he said. "If presented at a sufficiently early age with positive reinforcement, it would become an accepted part of the diet."

For example, wintergreen flavour is typically associated with ointments in the UK and considered unpleasant or disgusting in foods, said Blake. But in the US it is used in root beer and confectionery without any adverse reaction, despite the fact that most Americans and Europeans are derived from the same gene pool.