Wind-chimes hanging in the kitchen could be the secret to encouraging fussy children to eat their greens, according to an Oxford University professor.

 

Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology, who helped create chef Heston Blumenthal’s multi-sensory recipes, claims that parents can help enhance taste and suppress the bitterness of vegetables through ‘sonic seasoning.’

 

A survey of 2,000 adults found that their biggest food phobia as a child was sprouts, followed by cabbage, peas and broccoli.

Prof Spence has found that playing high chirpy notes like wind chimes while children eat, inadvertently improves flavour, by sweetening the taste.

 

He also encouraged allowing children to play with the food, so that they do not develop an irreversible aversion to it.

 

“So the idea with chirpy music like wind chimes is that it contains the high pitched musical notes that have been shown to bring out the sweetness in a food that contains a sweet note,” said Prof Spence.

 

“The idea is that by accentuating sweetness, that will reduce the perceived bitterness of vegetables. And since bitterness is mostly what kids are averse to in eg Brussels Sprouts then it should help make eg cruciferous vegetables just that little bit sweeter.

He added: “Parents should let their children just play with the food and let them grow to like it.

 

“Research suggests that exposing kids to fruit and veg – simply touching, smelling, looking at the disliked food, without actually having to eat them can, will lead to an increased chance of liking it. In fact, kids should be encouraged to play with their food even if they don’t eat it.”

 

It is possible to ‘hack’ taste sensations because, compared with other senses, the brain does not devote that much effort to processing flavour. For example while more than half the cerebral cortex is given over to making sense of what we see, only one per cent is dealing with what we taste.

 

The extra processing power allows humans to assess the consequences of eating foods without actually having to put them in our mouths, which could easily prove deadly.

Two thirds of adults surveyed said they had a childhood phobia of fruit and vegetables, claiming it was often the texture, smell or appearance that put them off rather than the taste.   Tomatoes were the most hated fruit, and sprouts the most hated vegetable.

 

Helen Whitby, nutritionist at Innocent, who commissioned the research, said: “There are lots of ways to get children and adults to eat more fruit and vegetables; disguising them in other foods like grating carrot into sauces, or making smoothies, are just two examples.

 

One of the most important things to remember is that repetition and familiarity play a really big role in getting kids to eat more fruit and veg. It often takes about 10 – 15 times for a child to try a food before they totally accept it, so be patient and don’t give up.”  

 

However two thirds of those surveyed said they lost their fruit or vegetable phobia as they reached adulthood as taste buds change allowing people to tolerate more spicy and bitter flavours.