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picky eating- could amylase play a role in how we experience texture?

Posted by on Nov 11, 2010 in Blog Posts | 8 comments

This is a fun article for lots of reasons on why we like certain textures and flavors. The amount of amylase (which breaks down starches) in saliva effects our experience of texture as well as the speed of starch absorption. It might provide another factor for why people prefer certain textures.  These few lines were heartening…

“And repetition sometimes can win out: Many people initially don’t like oysters because of their slimy texture, for instance, but can come to enjoy them after several tries.” (Sorry, I am not going to eat oysters… Won’t even try ’em. Am I a hypocrite?)

“But people’s saliva-flow rate tends to slow with age, which might affect their ability to break down starch in the mouth and reduce sensations of sliminess.” The point of this is the notion of childrens’ tastes maturing over time. Perhaps as saliva flow changes, foods they rejected as toddlers may actually feel different and better after repeated exposures over time.

and my favorite:

That genetic preference can be changed by repeatedly exposing the individual to the taste or by masking the bitterness, even at an early age, she has found. In a preliminary study with preschoolers, Dr. Duffy’s group added a sweet taste to balance out the bitterness of certain vegetables—less than half a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of broccoli or asparagus, for example, during cooking—and found that the children were more accepting of the greens. Even when the sweetness was removed, the children still liked the vegetables more than before because they had developed a positive association with them, she says. “It suggests that people should focus on what they like to eat and make it work for them,” Dr. Duffy says.” Makes me want to sing ala Mary Poppins, “A spoon full of sugar makes the broccoli go down! The broccoli go down! The broccoli go down!”
What do you think? After hearing so much recently about sensory integration issues, this is another possible piece of the puzzle. Nice thing is that repeated neutral exposures, perhaps with a little sugar :) over time, without pressure is helpful either way. Remember the importance of structure with eating too!

Won’t be long now until some drug company coins the term “amylase deficiency” and is pushing pills for picky eating! What would you pay for a pill to cure your picky eater problems :)

FYI, I’ll be out of town for my last of too many trips in the last 6 months. Will be checking in over the weekend, but back at it on Tuesday the 16th.

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  1. Twistie

    This is precisely why I’ve always had the personal policy of retrying foods after a while just to see if they’re better now than when I last remember eating them.

    Recently I’ve introduced turnips into the household menu. I mostly did this because we joined a CSA and got some turnips in the box one week. Before that my experience of turnips was pretty much neeps and tatties (mashe potatoes mixed with mashed turnips, a traditional Scottish delicacy) and the last time Mr. Twistie had allowed a turnip to pass his lips was when he was ten years old when his mother boiled them into a bitter mush. I started off with a potato/turnip gratin with caraway seeds. Mr. Twistie and I both turned out to adore it. Last week, we got turnips in the box again, so I added them to a beef stew. Again, bit hit. Oh, and this time there was no hesitation on Mr. Twistie’s part. He’s decided that turnips can be okay… and it only took forty years to change his mind!

    Oh, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having one or two ‘no go zones’ in your mouth. No power on earth will induce me to try snails. I just can’t make my brain not curl up in a fetal position in a corner at the concept of eating snails. The important thing is that we not allow the no go zones to multiply too much. If oysters make you mentally whimper, then they’re your no go zone. If you start adding in every form of shellfish even though they have very different (read: not slimy) textures and you don’t have a good medical reason to avoid them AND you haven’t tried any of them since you were a kid, that’s when it becomes an issue.

  2. the milliner

    Oh! And re: oysters: try battered & fried oysters. The crispy coating more than makes up for the texture of the oyster. In fact with both together it’s a nice texture contrast and doesn’t make the oyster seem so slimy. But yeah, I won’t eat raw oysters either…

    • katja

      i think i have had deep-fried clams and they are yummy. I expect oysters would be the same… I also love the boiled clam dippers out east. Yum. I miss living in Maine! lobster bakes-heaven!

  3. the milliner

    In regards to broccoli, a great way to get it to taste sweeter without adding sugar is to toss it in some olive oil, salt and pepper and to roast it in the oven (400F for 20-30 mins approx.). The caramelization gives a great sweetness. I could eat a whole head of broccoli that way myself!

    And amazingly, we just got our son to start eating broccoli again (he used to love it as a puree when he was starting out on solids) by serving it this way. Totally removes the bitterness. Same process also works for cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, almost any vegetable.

    And I totally agree with @Michele Gorman’s suggestion of trying it in a restaurant first. I do this often with unusual meats myself.

  4. Jean

    This IS interesting! I have so many friends with texture issues (which I don’t have myself) and this gives an actual technical reason for them!

    But I’m wondering about the little bit of sugar in relation to what you’ve said previously about the power of sweet things. If a little bit of sugar is okay for veggies, then where’s that line with, say, cereals? Or am I bringing in something completely irrelevant?

    • katja

      I think there are many reasons for texture issues. 1) preferance (M recently tried Bubble tea and almost gagged at the table…) it was odd 2) sensory issues 3) oral motor issues 4) aassociations and other HOWS of feeding ie if you bribe a kid with dessert to eat say, spinach, they will like the spinach less just by nature of the bribe (some fun studies on this one…) 5) amylase? others…
      A little sugar or sauce, or flavor is different than a super-sweet cereal for say as kids will prefer sweets in general. Exposure to sweet in and of itself does not make you like other things less. How you handle introducing and helping kids incorporate and learn to eat sweets and other foods is really important. Scattered this am, still packing for a trip today! Hope that made sense

  5. Michele Gorman

    This is great! It’s also affirming to read that our first exposure to certain foods creates an association, as I have always assumed! I always encourage people if they are trying a new vegetable and/or re-introducing Brussels sprouts after 25 years – not to make them themselves for the first time, but rather to try them at a restaurant where they know they will be prepared to be delicious–so their brain can make the positive association! Thanks Katjia for posting – this is great!

    • katja

      great tip! Thanks!I also liked the tip of adding a little sugar to water if boiling veggies. I often do sprouts and bitter veggies in a little broth, butter and with a diced, sauteed onion. Maybe adding a pinch of sugar would help, but so far most of my stuff gets eaten without complaint :) I always remember my mom adding a bit of sugar to tomato dishes to help with the acidity, makes sense to counteract the bitterness a little too!