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Articles - Gourmet Pleasures:

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Food likes and dislikes are learnt

Country and culture exert a huge influence on the development of children’s food likes and dislikes. This sums up the findings of a survey carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen together with colleagues from other European countries. The researchers investigated the food tastes of 1,700 children aged between 6 and 9 in Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Apple juice and biscuits

The scientists tested the children’s preferences by offering them apple juice with varying sugar content and biscuits with varying proportions of fat, salt and flavour enhancer (monosodium glutamate). Monosodium glutamate is responsible for the savoury umami taste. The parents were asked to fill in questionnaires about the family’s eating habits and lifestyles. In addition, the children’s individual sensitivity to the four taste types – sweet, bitter, salty and umami – were tested and recorded.

Wide variation across Europe

The researchers found that the factor with the greatest influence on the children’s taste was their nationality. For example, over 70% of the German children liked rich, buttery biscuits. In Cyprus and Sweden, by contrast fewer than 40% showed this preference. Then again, children in Germany and Belgium preferred natural apple juice without added sweeteners, while their contemporaries in Hungary, Italy and Sweden preferred the sweeter version. Age was also important; older children showed a stronger preference for sweet and salty tastes, while the meaty umami flavour seemed to appeal less to all the children.

Other factors less important

While more research is needed to confirm the results, this initial study seems to indicate that other factors, which the researchers had also considered, seemed to play a far smaller role. These included gender and taste sensitivity of the children, the parents’ educational level, the food they were given as babies. Another factor which was considered, but found to play a lesser role was the use of particular foods as rewards.

Healthy eating campaigns should take
note of these results

A person’s taste preferences play a huge role in their daily choice of foods. Campaigns aimed encouraging children to eat a healthy diet, need to take the children’s age and nationality into account, say the researchers. This is especially important for campaigns being planned on a pan-European scale.


Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de