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Deciphering Adult Flavor Preferences

Mother’s Milk May Hold The Key

Mother’s Milk May Hold The Key To Adult Flavor Preferences

By John Salak –

Ever wonder why you like spicy foods, sour tastes or maybe bland dishes? Maybe it is best to ask mom what she was munching on when you were a baby, especially if you were breastfed.

Technical University of Munich (TUM) researchers found that the foods and their related tastes that nursing mothers consumed might just have a significant impact on the flavor preferences of their children as they age. Their research stated by looking at the impact of mothers eating curry dishes containing pepper. They discovered that piperine, an alkaloid responsible for the pungency of pepper, was later found in breast milk, which was naturally passed on to nursing infants and young children.

The carry over impact on these young’uns make a certain amount of sense, although it is not entirely clear cut. Obviously, breast milk is the first food nursing babies consume and unlike standard infant formula, the taste and smell of this milk varies daily. The Munich researchers note that previous studies have indicated that early childhood influences can influence eating habits and taste preferences of individuals later in life. This could lead some to believe that if mom chows down on say a lot of Greek cuisine while nursing, junior may wind up loving moussaka, dolmades, feta cheese and maybe ouzo as an adult.

This is where the formula gets tricky. Not all foods and tastes are transferred on a one-off basis to mother’s milk. Odor and taste that are active substances from garlic or coffee are known to partly impact breast milk, but flavors from fish oil or nursing tea don’t seem to have staying powers, the TUM team noted.

Up until now, it was even less clear if pungent substances from chili to ginger and pepper carried over, which inspired the Munich researcher to investigate the matter. They relied on extensive mass spectrometric analysis to get a handle on the issue. The process discovered that within about one hour from having a curry dish, piperine surfaced in breast milk, although the level was significantly below the taste perception threshold for adults, reported TUM Professor Corinna Dawid.

“It seems rather unlikely to us that the infants consciously perceive the sharpness,” added Roman Lang, who was initially involved in the TUM study. “Nevertheless, it is conceivable that regular, low-threshold activation of the “pungent receptor” TRPV1 could help to increase tolerance for such substances later on.”

Surprisingly enough, while piperine managed to make its way into breast milk, the researchers reported no such luck when it came to chili and curcumin, which is also abundant in curry. What then is the verdict on mom’s influence on a child’s future tastes? Well, its undoubtedly there, but it may well be from her (or dad’s cooking) as from the impact of breast milk.

The Tum, however, team isn’t deterred by this continued uncertainty. They may, in fact, be inspired by their focus on curry. “Continued exploration will help us to better understand both the emergence of food preferences and the metabolic processes that play a role in the transfer of bioactive food ingredients into breast milk,” Dawid concluded.




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