If broccoli tasted like chocolate...

Posted on 25th November 2016

Would people be happier (and healthier) if we could make broccoli taste like chocolate?
I have come across this question quite a few times recently.
“Chocolate is nice, delicious, desirable, rewarding, etc., etc. etc”. Right?  “Broccoli (Brussels sprouts even more so) – very healthy and … unpleasant, undesirable and “compulsory”. Something you must eat order to earn your right to eat your chocolate or/and cake afterwards”. Right? And would not it be just wonderful indeed if broccoli tasted like chocolate – both pleasure and health in the same place?
No, it would not. To start with, is there anything wrong with the taste of broccoli? No, there is not. We learn to like and dislike certain tastes. Even before we are born, we can taste the foods eaten by our mother via the amniotic liquid (1,2), later through out mother’s milk (3), then eating the meals prepared by our parents, seeing them eating and enjoying – or not  – their meals, observing our siblings, friends, seeing TV advertisements and so on and so on.
Anyone[1] can learn to like foods that at the first (or second) try they consider unsavoury. It is called “hedonistic shift”. Bee Wilson in her book “First bite. How we learn to eat” has put it wonderfully:
“Many tastes – for green tea, say, or vodka – are acquired, if at all, in adulthood. When we learn to love these bitter but lovely substances, we undergo what psychologists call a ‘hedonistic shift’ from pain to pleasure (4). (…) The great question is what it takes us to undergo a similar ‘hedonistic shift’ to enjoying a moderate diet of healthy food.
The process will be different for each of us, because all of us have learned our own particular way of eating. But wherever you start, the first step to eating better is to recognize that our tastes and habits are not fixed but changeable.” (5, p.19)
I love my broccoli. Just lightly steamed, bright emerald colour, with some drops of soy sauce or just a few grain of sea salt and a sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Sicilian – strong, grassy and dense) – a feast for eyes and tongue. And – last but not least – health…
1.       Mennella JA, Johnson A, Beauchamp GK. Garlic ingestion by pregnant women alters the odor of amniotic fluid. Chem Senses. Oxford University Press; 1995 Apr;20(2):207–9.
2.       Schaal B, Marlier L, Soussignan R. Human foetuses learn odours from their pregnant mother’s diet. Chem Senses. Oxford University Press; 2000 Dec;25(6):729–37.
3.       Mennella JA, Jagnow CP, Beauchamp GK. Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants. Pediatrics. 2001;107(6).
4.       Rozin P, Schiller D. The nature and acquisition of a preference for chili pepper by humans. Motiv Emot. Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers; 1980 Mar;4(1):77–101.
5.       Wilson B. First Bite. How we learn to eat. London; 2015. 403 p.
P.S. Good quality dark chocolate is good for you as well. Just choose it with as high cocoa content as you can. Thus, apart from sensorial – and sensual – gratification you will get as many antioxidants (polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins) and as little – or no – added sugar as possible.
[1] Yes, even people with the TASR38 gene (this gene codes for bitter taste receptors) alteration for whom dark green leafy vegetables and brassicas taste particularly bitter. You can grow into enjoying the bitter taste.
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