Hate Broccoli? Your DNA May Be to Blame

If you make a face like a kid swallowing cough syrup at the mere suggestion of Brussels sprouts, you might have the DNA of a “supertaster,”


by Selene Yeager |

  • Broccoli! Scientists presenting at the 2019 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions say genes that make some people “supertasters” cause them to eat fewer vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
  • Supertasters inherit two variants of a taste gene called TAS2R38, which makes them find certain foods like cruciferous vegetables exceptionally bitter.
  • Specific cooking methods and seasonings may help super tasters enjoy more vegetables.

If you make a face like a kid swallowing cough syrup at the mere suggestion of broccoli or Brussels sprouts, you might have the DNA of a “supertaster,” a genotype that makes the bitter chemicals in these foods taste practically intolerable, according to recent research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019 this weekend in Philadelphia.

Everyone inherits two copies of a taste gene called TAS2R38. The particular variants you’re born with determine how sensitive or not you are to bitter tastes from certain chemicals such as glucosinolates, commonly found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli.

People who inherit two copies of a variant called AVI aren’t sensitive to bitter tastes. Those born with one copy of AVI and one copy of another variant called PAV perceive the bitter tastes of these chemicals but aren’t necessarily overwhelmed by them. However, people with two copies of PAV, often called “supertasters,” find the same foods exceptionally bitter.

Along with those cruciferous veggie offenders, other foods like coffee, dark chocolate, and beer may also trigger that way-too-bitter taste.

“We’re talking a ruin-your-day level of bitter when they tasted the test compound,” said study author Jennifer L. Smith, Ph.D., R.N., a postdoctoral fellow in cardiovascular science at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine in Lexington, in a press release from her upcoming presentation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that day-wrecking bitter perception prevents these super tasters from consuming their daily recommended vegetables.

When the researchers analyzed food-frequency questionnaires from 175 people (average age 52 and more than 70 percent female), they found that the respondents with the PAV genotype were more than two and a half times as likely to rank in the bottom half of participants on the number of vegetables eaten than those without the variant.

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Bitter-tasting status did not influence how much salt, fat or sugar the participants ate, showing that those with the variant are not taking in more flavor enhancers to offset the bitter taste of other foods. Down the line, researchers hope to use similar genetic information to figure out what spices may appeal to them—which they hope can persuade them to eat more vegetables.

In the meantime, you can try some cooking and seasoning techniques to tone down the bitterness and bring out the sweetness of cruciferous veggies, so you can reap their cardiovascular and cancer-fighting benefits.

Give them a roasting: Roasting or caramelizing vegetables converts more of the carbohydrates to sugars, which brings out their natural sweetness. Place those veggies in a pan, drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add a little salt and pepper and roast. Just stop the cooking process before they blacken, which can intensify some of the bitterness.

Butter them up. Fat makes everything delicious, right? In this case, a layer of fat can help suppress the bitter taste of vegetables. Fat also helps your body absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants found in many of these veggies. Baste your bitter veggies with a bit of butter or olive oil.

Try bitter-blocking seasonings. Triggering your other taste buds with salty, sweet, or sour flavors can override the bitter taste of cruciferous vegetables. Try garlic, ginger, spicy chilies, honey vinaigrette, or other strong flavorings.

Serve up sweeter vegetables. Not all vegetables are bitter. Try sweeter verities of lettuce, green beans, zucchini, snap peas, carrots, bell peppers, and other healthful vegetables instead.

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