How To Train Yourself To Enjoy Broccoli (And Other Foods You Don't Like)

It's all in the saliva 💦

It seems the proverb “if at first you don’t succeed; try, try, try again” is true – at least when it comes to eating foods you don’t like.

A new study has found saliva is very important when it comes to influencing how food tastes to people - and repeatedly eating foods you don’t like could change the make-up of your saliva, therefore making bitter foods taste nicer.

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Many healthy foods such as broccoli and dark chocolate taste bitter. So lead author Cordelia Running, from Purdue University in Indiana, US, set out to see if eating bitter foods would help people overcome an aversion to bitter compounds. “By changing your diet, you might be able to change your flavour experience of foods that at one point tasted nasty to you,” she explained.

While saliva consists almost entirely of water, it also contains thousands of proteins released by salivary glands. Some of these proteins are thought to bind to flavour compounds in food and also to taste receptor cells in the mouth.

It’s thought certain proteins are responsible for sensations such as dryness and roughness that develop when eating some types of chocolate, red wine and other foods. “If we can change the expression of these proteins, maybe we can make the ‘bad’ flavours like bitterness and astringency weaker,” said Running.

Her team asked participants to drink chocolate almond milk three times a day for a week and rate its bitterness and astringency (whether it left a dry, rough feeling in the mouth).

They found the protein composition of the participants’ saliva changed during that week. Several proline-rich proteins increased after drinking the chocolate almond milk and the changes in these proteins corresponded to changes in sensory ratings. As these proteins shifted up, the sensory ratings for bitterness and astringency shifted down.

“We think the body adapts to reduce the negative sensation of these bitter compounds,” Running explained. “Maybe this knowledge will help someone stick to a healthier diet long enough to adapt to like it.”