What’s in that jar of baby food when the label says it’s packed with dark green, leafy vegetables? Not as many veggies as you might think, and perhaps more pureed fruit than you’d like to see.
Penn State researchers say some baby food that purports to be loaded with dark green vegetables have other ingredients that can change its flavor.
Why does this matter for baby food? It’s about acquired taste. Children won’t learn to like the taste of kale, spinach or Brussel sprouts if they’ve never been frequently exposed to their flavors. When vegetables’ natural tastes are masked by sweeter flavors, children may never get accustomed to their distinct flavors. Vegetables tend to be more bitter and have more subtle flavors than other foods, factors that can make them unpopular to kids.
Researchers worked with a group of adults who had undergone almost 15 hours of sensory and taste training to evaluate 21 commercial baby foods and one homemade variety using 14 flavor, taste and texture characteristics.
The research subjects found that the baby foods with fruit were sweeter than those without fruit. And almost none of the baby foods touting dark green vegetables contained them as a primary ingredient. That meant the foods’ taste was substantially different than it would be with dark green vegetables as a main ingredient.
The researchers said for vegetables to ultimately be liked, or at least tolerated, by children, the flavors have to be distinct so they eventually become familiar.
What are parents to do? Taste the baby food yourself. If it has a sweet, fruit-like taste, it’s probably not helping your infant develop a liking for vegetables.