by Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Most children want their food to taste sweet. So, do you want your child to eat a candy bar or fruit when they have a snack? A team of researchers from the University of Florida and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Pennsylvania found children and adults differ in how they perceive sweetness of fructose – one of the main sugars in blueberries.
In this case, by letting participants eat UF/IFAS-developed blueberries and by measuring their sweet preferences, scientists at the Monell Center in Philadelphia found that children are more sensitive to slight variations in the sweetness of blueberries. In fact, children have a higher “bliss point” for the sweetness of fructose — one of the main sugars in blueberries.
“Children live in different sensory worlds,” said Julie Mennella, a research scientist at Monell and the lead author of the study. “Decades of research around the world tells us that they prefer a higher level of sweetness than adults. Children have a higher ‘bliss point,’ that is the perfect amount of sweetness in a food is higher for them than adults.”
“Children are consumers of fruit,” said Linda Bartoshuk, a UF/IFAS professor of food science and human nutrition and a co-author on the new study. “Parents buy fruit to give kids, so why not have the evaluations of kids to guide their selections?”
UF/IFAS sent two harvests worth of blueberries to the Monell lab. For the study, 49 children and their mothers went to the Monell Center to taste three blueberry varieties. Researchers wanted to distinguish participants’ preferences among three UF/IFAS cultivars — ‘Arcadia,’ ‘Keecrisp,’ and ‘Kestrel.’
Berries picked during the first harvest were similar in sugar content and children and their parents preferred ‘Keecrisp.’ For the second harvest, Arcadia had the higher sugar content. While mothers liked each cultivar equally, children preferred ‘Arcadia,’ showing how they are more sensitive to changes in sweetness, the study found.
Researchers also wanted to find the link between participants’ blueberry preferences and the level of natural sugar in the fruit, and they sought the most preferred level of fructose, one of the primary sugars in blueberry fruit.
Researchers say this study shows that parents can be more judicious about what foods they buy their children, and growers can produce the fruit children want to eat. Furthermore, supermarkets can market fruit in terms of its palatability to kid consumers.
Consumption of blueberries in the U.S. has increased 15-fold over the past two decades, and the blueberry industry has undergone tremendous growth, reaching about $825 million in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Despite increasing blueberry consumption, the average American child aged 6 to 19 consumes far less fruit than the national goal of 1.5 cups per person per day, according to the USDA. Mirroring the national trend, 73 percent of the children and 92 percent of adults who participated in this study did not meet guidelines for fruit intake.
Knowing how much children love that natural sugar in blueberries should help guide parents as they shop for groceries.
“Parents want their kids to eat healthy,” Bartoshuk said. “Parents know a great deal about what their kids like, but they don’t know what their kids would choose if lots more choices were available.”
This marks the first of a series of collaborative studies from the Food and Flavor Division of the UF/IFAS Plant Innovation Center, Bartoshuk said.
“We plan more studies involving colleagues outside of UF/IFAS, but who are interested in the same issues,” she said. “This way we have the benefit of a population of world class thinkers collaborating with us.”
The study is published in the Journal of Food Science.
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