The Development of Flavor Perception and Acceptance: The Roles of Nature and Nurture

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2016:85:135-43. doi: 10.1159/000439504. Epub 2016 Apr 18.


Our ability to perceive the broad range of flavors imparted by foods involves the assimilation of multiple chemosensory sensations: primarily those of taste and olfaction. Due to their adaptive value, these chemosensory systems are functional before birth and continue to mature throughout childhood. As a result, children live in their own flavor world, preferring foods that are high in sugar and salt over those that are sour and bitter tasting, such as fruits and vegetables. Although these flavor preferences are not consistent with a healthful diet, they can be 'fine tuned' by sensory experiences beginning prenatally. Through exposure to the flavors of amniotic fluid and breast milk, which reflect the foods within the mother's diet, infants become more accepting of foods within their culture. In contrast, exclusively formula-fed children, who do not benefit from the ever-changing flavor profile of breast milk, learn only about the flavor of their formula. Early learning about flavors continues at weaning, through repeated exposure to a variety of foods. Thus, mothers who consume an array of healthy foods themselves throughout pregnancy and lactation, and subsequently feed their children these foods at weaning, can promote healthful eating habits in their children and families.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Feeding Methods
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pregnancy
  • Taste Perception*
  • Young Adult