Penn State research

Fruit masks taste of dark green vegetables in baby foods

According to a team of Penn State researchers, commercially prepared baby foods that purport to be loaded with dark green vegetables are sweetened with fruit puree and often don't contain a high percentage of dark green vegetable content.

The resulting lack of dark green vegetable taste matters, said team leader John Hayes, associate professor of food science at Penn State, because young children don't learn to like the taste of broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts and kale, to name a few, unless they repeatedly are exposed to them. So, they may not want to eat them later.

"Other research indicates young kids need to be exposed to the flavor of vegetables to learn to like them," he said. "If true, this new work is key because it shows that current commercial products on the market fail to meet this need, as they cover up and hide the flavor of vegetables -- even when vegetables are on the ingredient list."

Because vegetables are an important but under-consumed part of a healthy diet, there is growing interest in promoting vegetable acceptance and consumption among infants to help establish life-long healthy eating patterns, noted Hayes, director of the Sensory Evaluation Center in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

He suggested that many well-meaning parents who want their young children to eat and like dark green vegetables may be fooled by misleading content descriptions.

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