Oh, to have been born loving broccoli instead of chocolate! Truth is, your DNA alone doesn’t dictate what you like (and don’t like).
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A few years back, Mennella and her colleagues conducted a study in which pregnant women planning to breastfeed were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Women in all groups consumed 1 1⁄4 cups of carrot juice or water four days a week for three consecutive weeks during the last trimester of pregnancy and again during the first two months of breastfeeding. One group consumed carrot juice during pregnancy and water during lactation. Another group, the reverse (water, then carrot juice). The third group drank water both times. Later, when it came time to introduce the infants to solid foods, the researchers observed the babies as they were fed cereal prepared with water on one occasion and cereal made with carrot juice on another. After each feeding session, the scientists also asked the mothers to rate their babies’ enjoyment of the cereal. When fed the carrot-flavored cereal, infants whose mothers had drunk the carrot juice while pregnant or breastfeeding displayed fewer negative facial expressions than the babies whose mothers had sipped water. These infants also appeared (according to their mothers, who were unaware of the scientists’ research question) to enjoy the carrot-flavored cereal more than the one made with water. “Prior exposure to the carrot juice made the taste familiar, and therefore more acceptable,” says Mennella.
Of course, after I learned this, I was eager to relate this to my, and Jack’s, earliest flavor experiences. I knew that I’d been bottle-fed, as was common when I was born. But my mother loves all kinds of fruits and vegetables and, lucky for me, my birthday is in September, which means she ate loads of in-season produce for most of her pregnancy. To find out about Jack, I asked my sister-in-law, who was a teen when her brother was born. She told me that while their mother was pregnant with Jack and then breastfeeding she’d eaten the typical Texas fare she always served: beef brisket, meatloaf and fried chicken.
Do these first flavor exposures explain my husband’s early love affair with meat and how I came to love vegetables despite my sensitive taste buds? It’s possible they played a part—but likely a small one. There’s yet another layer to this onion.