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22nd Dec 2021

People who hate sprouts are more highly evolved, apparently

Simon Bland


You just have better taste… literally

Hate Brussels sprouts? If so, it turns out you aren’t just picky. Instead, you could be among the select few that actually have a higher number of taste receptors on their tongue – a trait most people don’t have.

Usually, the majority of people have around 25 different ‘bitter’ receptors on their tongue. Known as TAS2R38, these receptors create a protein in your mouth which in turn creates a chemical known as phenylthiocarbamide – or PTC.

While this may all sound like mouthy jargon to most people, the end result is actually quite easy to digest: it basically results in a bitter taste in your mouth which, let’s face it, isn’t very nice at all, is it?

When combined with certain green vegetables – including cabbage, broccoli and sprouts – this uncomfortable and often unpleasant sensation is intensified – which is why most people tend not to like these healthy-yet-stinky side-dishes.

In fact, this intense reaction actually has an evolutionary use, kicking in whenever you taste something that’s not going to do you any good, like poison.

Side note: You shouldn’t really be eating poison.

For all those with a higher number of receptors on their tongue, this bitter taste is more acute and can lead to a much more gross experience. So if you’re extra prone to disgust whenever the spot a sprout on your Christmas dinner plate, this could be you.

Speaking to Unilad, Dr Stacey Lockyer, Nutritional Scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, explained that “Brussels sprouts are one of a group of vegetables known as cruciferous vegetables or Brassica which also includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

“Brassica contain high amounts of compounds called glucosinolates which, when metabolised in the body, give them their characteristic sharp or bitter taste.”

She continued, adding: “The specific taste of these vegetables seems to be acceptable to some individuals but very unpleasant to others and while whether we like or dislike certain foods is determined by several factors, some studies have demonstrated that the perception of bitterness of cruciferous vegetables is linked to genetic differences in taste receptors on the tongue.”

So there you have it. Those of us with an extra-special dislike for sprouts may just have better genetics than those who can’t get enough of those divisive dinner delicacies – or they just really like smelly food. Who knows?

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