Our Tastes For Certain Foods May Be Written in Our Genes

By Carl Engelking | June 5, 2014 3:41 pm

hates broccoli

Are you a person who just can’t stand broccoli? Well, your revulsion of the sprout-topped vegetable may run deeper than just stubbornness — your food preferences could be written into your genetic code.

Italian researchers studying the genetic basis of food cravings have discovered 17 genes related to liking specific foods including dark chocolate, artichokes, bacon, coffee and of course broccoli. Additionally, in separate studies the team also discovered genes linked with salt perception and metabolizing certain types of food. 

Together, the series of studies bolsters a branch of research called nutrigenetics, which focuses on understanding the way our genes affect our choice of foods and our body’s ability to process these foods. Researchers believe the studies could contribute to personalized diets that make healthy foods tastier by catering to people’s preferences.

If the Genes Fit

The research team from the University of Trieste and the Burlo Garofolo Institute for Maternal and Child Health in Italy performed genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to locate the specific genes responsible for certain food preferences. A GWAS identifies genetic variants within snippets of DNA, harvested from blood or cheek swabs, that are linked to certain traits in groups of individuals.

More than 2,300 Italian subjects, and 1,700 from other European countries and Central Asia, participated in the study, and they were asked how much they liked 42 different foods.

Seventeen genes showed significant associations with food preferences. The researchers found genes that reflected people’s affinity for:

  • Artichokes (three genes)
  • Bacon
  • Broccoli (two genes)
  • Coffee
  • Chicory
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Blue Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Liver
  • Oil or Butter on Bread
  • Orange Juice
  • Plain Yogurt
  • White Wine
  • Mushrooms

Interestingly, none of these 17 genes encoded a taste or smell receptor — the obvious candidates for influencing our appetites. Thus, researchers don’t yet know why variants of these genes would impact our favorite foods.

Customized Diets

In a second study, more than 900 healthy adults participated in a similar test to find the genetic link to enjoying the flavor of salt. Researchers discovered a specific gene encouraging people to consume more salt, which in turn could represent a risk factor for development of hypertension and salt intake.

Nicola Piratsu, the studies’ lead author, told New Scientist that their work should lead to the design of meals, or cooking methods, that are customized for people’s genetic profiles. If people don’t like the taste of spinach, it could be prepared in a different way or ingredients could be added to mask the flavor.


Photo by Angela Waye/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genetics, nutrition
  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    Have they found the “cilantro tastes like soap” gene yet?

    • Herne Webber

      Yes. My mother and I both tested with 23andMe. There are two alleles for two genes, both of which work roughly the same way. If you are homozygous for the ‘tastes like soap’ versions, you are likely to dislike cilantro (and coriander, the seed of the same plant). If you are homozygous for the ‘non-tasting’ versions, then you only get the aroma, and are likely to like it. If you are heterozygous, then it will just depend on your exposures and personal tastes otherwise.

      My mother is homozygous (AA) for the tasting version of the latest discovery (rs2741762), while heterozygous (CT) for the first discovery (rs3930459). She dislikes both cilantro and coriander. I am heterozygous for both genes, and I like these herbs, but only in moderation. When I was younger, I once got sick trying to force myself not to waste a rice and pea dish I’d made with too much coriander, because it was rather like eating soapy wax. Most people like the *smell* of this herb, so it’s too bad it tastes like an unpalatable chemical to too many.

      • Yaniv the Unicorn

        I did not expect that question to have an answer. This is a real answer?

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  • DodgeMiniVan

    Personally, I like Broccoli along with Broccoli de Rapa (not sure of the spelling). Cilantro if aloud to grow tall, what looks like seeds at the top are really Coriander and have a smell and taste of orange; this I found purely by accident many years ago.

  • DodgeMiniVan

    I realize I spelled allowed wrong. Pardon.

  • Billie Erin Walsh

    Hmm. Makes me wonder. My whole family was addicted to coffee. I can’t stand it. I drink tea. Everyone in my family thought liver and onions was a great dinner. Eat the onions and feed the liver to the dog. Dogs will eat anything. But, I do like liverwurst. Go figure. I think it’s that rind of fat around the outside more than the liverwurst itself.

    In fact most of the foods that my immediate ancestors liked I don’t.

  • Amy Sullivan

    I hate, hate, hate potatoes. The smell makes me gag. My mom used to joke and say there was no way I’m Irish.


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