Science - November 11, 2011

Broccoli can be yummy

How do children like their broccoli? School children in Wageningen solve a piece of this puzzle in the Restaurant of the Future.

broccoli.JPG
Joep de Bruijn isn't exactly a big fan of broccoli.  But when given the choice, he places three of the six different varieties of broccoli in the 'delicious' box. He finds them 'tasty enough'. 'Number 782 tastes like pasta, 175 tastes like bread and 364, like pancake.' Joep works conscientiously. He appears hungry as well.
Joep studies at the Montessori School in Wageningen. Together with the other 89 pupils from primary 6, 7 and 8, he is present for a broccoli tasting experiment. The experiment forms part of the research work conducted by Nancy Holthuysen (Food & Biobased Research) for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. Its aim is to get children to eat more vegetables. Therefore, more insight is needed as to what children like to eat and why.
Cabbage-like
All that is required of the Montessori pupils is to group the broccoli according to a tastiness scale. Earlier this week, adults had been present for tasting too. Their task was more complex, as they had to rate the broccoli based on a long list of characteristics: from sweetness to sourness, from crunchiness to dryness, from potato-like to cabbage-like, just to name a few.
Least bitter
By linking both sets of preferences, a measurable picture emerges as to what children like to eat, explains Holthuysen. The pancake-broccoli described by Joep de Bruijn, for example, seems to be the least bitter of the six broccoli varieties. Megan Jansen also finds number 364 most tasty. 'It tastes a little funny, I don't taste this often.' To her, broccoli is 'not the yummiest food'. With the exception of this day, perhaps. 'Any more questions? I want to go on eating.'
Ice-cream
These taste experiments are merely a part of the research work. In the laboratory, broccoli varieties are examined in detail to find out what makes them taste the way they do. Holthuysen: 'We analyze them for Vitamin C, anti-oxidants, sugar, aroma substances and glucosinolates. The last of these are bitter substances.' All these could eventually point the way towards a broccoli type which appeals to children. There is still a long way to go, though. The tasters, however, have been given their reward: apple-flavoured ice-cream.

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