Kale is an acquired taste, even in utero

Kale is an acquired taste, even in utero

Kale haters everywhere, you’re not the only one who hates this bitter leafy green. This dislike may have started way earlier than you think. A study from scientists at Aston University in the UK and the National Centre for Scientific Research-University of Burgundy, France offers a rare look at the faces fetuses make depending upon the food their mothers eat.

The study, published this week in the journal Psychological Science, took 4D ultrasound scans of 100 pregnant women ages 18 to 40, at weeks 32 and 36 of pregnancy to see how the fetuses responded after being exposed to flavors from foods eaten by their mothers. As a control, the moms were asked to refrain from eating or drinking flavored drinks for at least one hour prior to their scans. They also had to avoid carrot and kale on the day of the scan. The mothers were then given a single capsule containing about 400mg of carrot or 400mg kale powder roughly 20 minutes before each ultrasound.

When exposed to carrots, fetuses displayed a “laughter face.” Kale, however, often elicited a “crying-face” response.

“It’s really amazing to see unborn children’s reactions to kale and carrot flavors during scans and share these moments with their parents,” Beyza Ustun (postgraduate researcher in the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab, Durham University ,), said in an . press release

Kale is an acquired taste, even in utero
A “laughter face” reaction to carrots. CREDIT: Durham University/Aston University.

The findings could further our understanding of the development of taste and smell receptors in humans. Researchers also believe that pregnant women’s diets may influence their babies’ taste preferences. It could also help us understand the importance and health of taste during pregnancy.

[Related: A simple blood test could save new mothers. Why aren’t more doctors using this test? ]

” There have been a number of studies that suggest babies can taste and smell inside the womb. However, these studies are based on post-birth outcomes,” Ustun explained. “While our study is the first to observe these reactions before birth, it could be important when thinking about messaging around healthy eating and how to avoid food-fussiness.” We believe that repeated exposure to flavors prior to birth could help establish food preferences. This could be useful when communicating messages about healthy eating and how to avoid ‘food-fussiness” when weaning .”

A control group of fetuses whose mothers were not given a tablet or exposed to either kale or carrot flavor showed that even a small amount of the flavor could stimulate a reaction.

[Related: Should pregnant people not drink coffee? The answer is complex. ]

“Looking at the facial reactions of fetuses we can conclude that a variety of chemical stimuli pass through the maternal diet into fetal environment,” stated co-author Benoist Schal, of National Centre for Scientific Research in a press release . This could have important implications on our understanding of how taste and smell receptors develop, as well as related perception and memory .”


The team has started a follow-up study post-birth with the same babies. Stay tuned to find out if kale causes babies to cry after birth–and if they have any pre-birth snacks that affect their acceptance of other foods.

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