How Common Is a Sensitivity to Bitterness among Children?

Studies have shown that about 70 percent of children have a sensitivity to bitterness. Many vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, watercress and cauliflower, contain compounds called glucosinolates, which can make them taste bitter. The sensitivity to bitterness is thought to stem from children having certain variations of the TAS2R38 gene, which is connected to bitterness receptors.

More facts about bitterness:

  • Everybody has two types of TAS2R38 genes, which can come in sensitive and insensitive types. Adults who have multiples of the sensitive type of TAS2R38 are often "supertasters." Just having the sensitive versions of the gene won't make someone a supertaster, though. The person also has to have more taste buds than other people. Those who are supertasters are much more sensitive to all flavors, but particularly bitterness.

  • Even adults who have more sensitive versions of the TAS2R38 gene feel that certain foods are more bitter. In one study, subjects who had the sensitive version of the gene rated vegetables 60 percent more bitter than those who had the less sensitive version.

  • There are ways to work around this genetic sensitivity. For instance, one study found that children ate as much as 80 percent more vegetables when they were eaten with dip than when they were served on their own.

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