Two people holding a photo of an ultrasound

“When fetuses were exposed to carrot flavor, they were more likely to show 'laughter-face' reactions, and when they were exposed to kale flavor, they were more likely to show 'cry-face' reactions.”

Researchers wrote in a new study examining how fetuses respond to food after it is eaten by their mothers.

Published on

sep 28, 2022

Why It Matters: The new study from Durham University in the United Kingdom is "the first direct evidence that fetuses react to the flavors of the foods eaten by their mothers," said Beyza Ustun, head of the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab at Durham University and a co-author of the study.

  • About 100 women at 32 and 36 weeks pregnant participated. Some of the women were given a capsule containing a powdered version of kale and others were given a capsule containing a powdered version of carrots. Meanwhile, a control group did not receive either. Twenty minutes later, mothers had a 4D ultrasound scan.
  • Based on the scans, most fetuses exposed to carrots appeared to have a “laughter-face," while most of those exposed to kale appeared to have a “cry-face," demonstrating that "fetuses can discriminate different flavors ..." The women's fetuses who were not exposed to carrot/kale flavors did not show as many of these reactions.
  • Big Picture: These findings "have important implications for understanding the earliest evidence for fetal abilities to sense and discriminate different flavors," wrote the researchers. A follow-up study is underway with the same women to understand if flavors experienced in the womb impact how they accept various flavors and foods eaten after birth.

Babies in the womb smile over carrots, grimace at kale, new fetus study finds (USA Today)

The Study: Flavor Sensing in Utero and Emerging Discriminative Behaviors in the Human Fetus (SAGE journals)

Press Release: Fetuses react to taste and smell in the womb (Durham University)

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