The Surprising Reason You Might Hate Broccoli

It's one of the oldest food stereotypes out there — hating broccoli. Kids have almost always been portrayed as hating these little tree-looking vegetables, and there are still some adults out there who won't even touch the stuff. President George H.W. Bush was famously broccoli-averse. ("I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!” as The New York Times quoted him in 1990.)

Why the strong adverse reaction? Is it because it's like eating little trees? Is it because, like President Bush, you may have bad memories of being forced to eat it as a kid and now you have some kind of psychological aversion to it?

When we try new things, like a plate of steamed broccoli, or have to change our diet, why is it so hard to do? The answer may lie not just in one's personal tastes, but, says Scientific American, it lies more within our genetic heritage that keeps us from enjoying certain foods. A sort of pre-coded flavor profile passed down from generation to generation, which would explain how you may find it oddly familiar to try and get your kid to try and eat their side of broccoli. 

The genetics behind your taste preferences

Genetics don't just apply to your eye color or how tall you are. According to University of Kentucky's nurse researcher Jennifer. L. Smith's study on cardiovascular-healthy foods (via University of Kentucky), you may have a certain "bitter-sensitive" gene that amplifies the natural bitter taste of certain foods. Think of it like having a superpower, but that only power is being able to really taste how bitter that bar of dark chocolate you thought was milk chocolate actually is.

"Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are usually the worst culprits for those with the super-taster gene," Smith said. "It's possible dark chocolate, coffee and sometimes beer can turn them away, too."

Out of a test of 175 participants, more than 72% of them were female, with an average age of 52. Those with this "bitter-gene" were two-and-a-half times less likely to try any vegetables. Of course, broccoli is a well-known superfood, filled with key nutrients and vitamins, so just throwing it away because it tastes weird isn't that great an option. Smith advises that doctors should at least encourage their patients to try broccoli and use different herbs and spices to mask the flavor of the bitterness.