Your Hatred of Broccoli May be Hardwired in your Microbiome

Your Hatred of Broccoli May be Hardwired in your Microbiome

Fall has here, believe it or not, which can only mean one thing, no, not Thanksgiving – although, Thanksgiving is fine – but rather brassica season.

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts – you name it, our mothers have undoubtedly boiled it for an inordinate amount of time and told us, “Eat up, it’s great.” But for many of us, those words were a dirty lie: Brussels sprouts aren’t tasty, you know they aren’t, and neither do the other millions of people around the world who force a grin through plates of the bitter little fart-balls at dinner time.

We have both good and bad news to report. The good news is that you can’t help yourself, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Brassica aversion is literally built into your mouth microbiome. The bad news is that this is only true if you’re a baby who refuses to eat vegetables because they’re unpleasant.

According to the study, “significant unfavorable associations were identified between children’s liking scores for raw cauliflower [and their oral microbiome].” “While negative correlations for the same ions were discovered in the adult group, they were not significant.”

In other words, it appears that people grow out of it. But what exactly is it that’s generating the squick to begin with? It’s something called S-methyl—cysteine sulfoxide, which is a “unique substrate present in Brassicas that creates odor-active sulfur volatiles” when certain people eat it, according to the study. The scientists explain that having the correct numbers of particular bacteria in your oral microbiome might impact the “in-mouth odor development” of veggies, making them taste about as good as you’d expect from something defined as “in-mouth odor development.”

Though intriguing – and a convenient reason for Christmas dinner – it isn’t new: scientists have known for over a decade that the oral microbiota influences how we perceive flavor. But what they didn’t realize, and what this new study has revealed, is how important the biome is in children. The researchers used a technology known as gas chromatography-olfactometry-mass spectrometry to make the discovery (ironically, quite the mouthful). They were able to identify the primary odor compounds in raw and steamed cauliflower and broccoli, which they subsequently gave to study participants (98 parent-child pairs with children aged 6 to 8) to sniff.

The odors were judged by the adults and children involved, and dimethyl trisulfide, which smelled “rotten, sulfurous, and putrid” according to the researchers, was rated the worst. The researchers then evaluated the volatile chemicals created over time by mixing saliva samples from study participants with raw cauliflower powder. The researchers discovered that while the levels varied greatly from person to person, they were similar between children and their parents.