Does hot food “flavor” breast milk?

A mother’s diet is reflected in her milk. (Image: golubovy / iStock)

It is well known that mothers’ eating habits shape the characteristics of their milk – but does that also apply to the spiciness factor? A German research team has now confirmed that the active ingredient piperine ends up in breast milk after the consumption of curry dishes. However, a baby’s mouth is unlikely to burn from the low concentrations. However, it seems possible that pungent substances absorbed through breast milk influence the development of taste sensation, say the scientists.

The first human food, breast milk, does not always taste the same, studies have already shown. The differences are clearly shaped by the maternal diet. However, the taste and aroma of food are not transferred one-to-one to milk: only certain substances get into the nourishing liquid through physical processes – while others do not. It is known, for example, that odorous or taste-active substances from garlic or coffee can shape breast milk. In this context, there are already assumptions that the taste experience in early childhood could also influence eating behavior in adulthood.

In contrast to certain flavorings, however, it is still unclear to what extent hot-tasting substances end up in breast milk – such as chilli, ginger or pepper, which are typical ingredients in curry spice mixtures. A team headed by the Technical University of Munich has now dealt with this question. The researchers analyzed the milk of 18 breastfeeding mothers who had previously consumed a standardized curry dish.

Pepper spiciness detectable after one hour

The team’s mass spectrometric analyzes showed that there were no pungent substances from ginger, chilli or the plant substance turmeric, which is also contained in curry, in breast milk. But that did not apply to the spiciness of the pepper: piperine was detectable in the milk for several hours just one hour after consuming the curry dish. The analyzes showed that the concentrations were between 14 and 57 micrograms per liter. As the scientists explain, these values ​​are well below the taste limits of an adult.

“It therefore seems unlikely that the infants will be aware of the sharpness,” says co-author Roman Lang from the Technical University of Munich. As he emphasizes, the finding can still have a meaning: “It is conceivable that regular, low-threshold activation of the ‘hot substance receptor’ TRPV1 could help to increase the later tolerance limit for such substances,” says the food systems biologist . Thus, even in the case of spiciness, breast milk seems to have an effect on the development of people’s sense of taste.

The team now wants to continue to dedicate itself to this research topic: “Exploring the causes of the observations made should help to better understand both the emergence of food preferences and the metabolic processes that are responsible for the transfer of bioactive food ingredients into breast milk play a role, ”says senior author Corinna Dawid from the Technical University of Munich.

Source: Technical University of Munich, specialist article: Mol Nutr Food Res, doi: 10.1002 / mnfr.202100508.

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