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Teaching my baby about taste

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Apparently newborn babies prefer sweet to savoury and their tastes are determined when still in the womb, while their taste buds start to develop with the introduction of solids. I would like to understand how my baby gradually turns into a little gourmet!

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Is taste innate or acquired? Experts are divided on this fascinating question. Your baby arrives in the world with a certain genetic predisposition. They love the taste of sweet things (you just have to watch them smile when they have their first taste of apple purée) but an acidic or bitter taste will produce a frown. However, this "innate" palate is primitive and restricted and as they discover solid foods, it will become subtly enriched. Taste is a life-long learning process, but which has its roots in pregnancy.

Everything starts in the womb

The taste organ (taste buds on the tongue) develop very early on. From the fifth month of pregnancy, the foetus begins to educate their taste buds. According to what their mother eats, they learn to distinguish between different flavours: sweet, salty, bitter and acidic. Some researchers think that the first taste preferences can be identified as of this time. One thing is certain: the mother's diet influences the taste of the amniotic fluid. Other studies have shown that the sweeter this fluid tastes, the more the foetus ingests! Hence their preference for this taste once they are born! However, while your baby is born with predetermined tastes, the game is not over yet! Their likes and dislikes will change as they experience different foods both via breast milk (the taste of the milk changes depending on what you eat) and with the introduction of solids. Nature provides and little by little your baby will start to construct their "personal tastes". What a programme!

My little omnivore

Just like you, your baby is an omnivore: we have to eat all kinds of food in order to obtain all the nutrients we need. This capacity to ingest the greatest variety of foods, and therefore our adaptability to different environments, is doubtless one of the reasons why humans are the dominant species in nature. However, we also "suffer" from what some researchers have termed the omnivore paradox: a conflicting desire to discover new foods and stick to what we know.

We are therefore constantly torn between seeking out new foods which are good for us, in sufficient quantities, and the risks such foods may pose (poisoning, etc.). Just like us, your baby is also naturally torn between curiosity and rejection! This also explains food neophobia, that strange phase around the age of 2 when your baby becomes less adventurous and systematically refuses all new foods through fear of the unknown. It is a passing phase and one which is not always easy to deal with, but it forms part of the psychological development and therefore diversification of all babies, including yours! Therefore, be patient!

"When we first gave Our daughter, rice porridge sent us into fits of hysterics. My husband and I still laugh about it! It took several attempts before he would eat it with a smile." This is why it is a good idea to only present your baby with one new food at a time. You may sometimes have to try them with it a few times before they accept it!

Your baby discovers their cultural environment

Our omnivore status means that we are the only species to cook our food (notably in order to eliminate certain risks to our health), thereby transforming our food from its raw state to a "civilised" state. As their sense of taste develops and they acquire certain habits, your baby will also begin to internalise the values specific to their social environment. Through contact with friends and family, they will learn to recognise (and acquire likes and dislikes for!) certain foods and to distinguish what is edible from what is not. In the end, they will come to love such and such a dish with particular regional or family connotations, whether it be couscous or haggis! Taste really does form an integral part of their cultural learning.

The key time for expanding your baby's range of flavours (which already began in the womb and continued through breastfeeding) is when weaning. This fundamental learning process starts around the age of 5 or 6 months. How should I go about educating my baby's palate? By varying their diet month after month according to what they can eat. And there is so much to choose from! You will have great fun trying them with new flavours and watching their different reactions. Don't forget also that the more you offer your baby new foods before the food neophobia phase kicks in (which usually appears around the age of 2), the more chance you will have that they will continue to accept new foods during and after this phase. An encouraging thought to bear in mind!

Taste: a whole range of new sensations

In practical terms, gradually introduce the four basic flavours (salty, sweet, bitter, acidic) while also alternating between the different thermal sensations (hot, tepid, cold), tactile sensations (soft/firm, crunchy, frothy, silky and other thick and thin consistencies) and visual sensations (foods of varying shapes and colours, for example). Stimulate and awaken your baby's taste buds slowly but surely. This way, they will grow into a child who can readily adapt, gradually changing from a little guzzler into a discerning little gourmet! So, full speed ahead for discovery! It's an amazing ride, as you'll find out!

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