Why do certain people (especially kids) find vegetables so "repellent" when evolutionarily they should find them an attractive and thus tasty food?

I ask this question because if Darwin's theory of evolution is true then foods like vegetables that us human beings have been eating and attaining better health from eating for millions of years should have a taste that accordingly attracts us to them.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Your view of "so repellent" may be cultural or a result of growing up in the western world $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ I "tuned down" a little bit the question. Saying that "people find vegetables repellent" is a gross exaggeration. Some people may do, but I would not say that they are the majority (unless you have proof otherwise). $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ It would be nice to see some actual numbers (peer-reviewed papers anyone?) showing food preferences in different countries... that may tell a lot. $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 6:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I tend to think this is a conditioned response, not entirely an evolved one. People who don't eat meat habitually cannot stand it. same is true for large amounts of sugar. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 14:14

4 Answers 4


Evolution is not that simple. There is no selective pressure for a feature if it does not ultimately in some way benefit reproduction or the offspring. Vegetables are healthy for us now because we live much longer than we used to in an environment not dominated by us, and they contain many nutrients which help to sustain a healthy body beyond, say, 50.

However, if you imagine an average life span of around 30, it becomes clearer why evolution would favour foods high in energy over foods containing high amounts of micronutrients. Over such a time span, the long-term effects of a diet rich in fat and sugar do not develop significantly, but the energy supply is exactly what is needed to sustain bare life to the reproductive age.

  • $\begingroup$ A healthy diet is also more likely to result in us being more healthy and thus looking more attractive to potential mates so it still seems odd that the foods that are among the richest in said vitamins are so repugnant to us. $\endgroup$
    – Josh Pinto
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 12:21
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Attractiveness is a cultural value - it wasn't long ago (only a few hundred years) that the ideal figure was actually everything else than slim. Have a look at depictions of beautiful women and men in art throughout the centuries (e.g. in the antique god/esses of beauty, or paintings of literary figures which are supposed to be beautiful). Healthiness also depends on context. As I said, today what we consider healthy are things that sustain a healthy body for a long life. Not long ago, what was healthy were things that sustain life at all. $\endgroup$
    – Armatus
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ While I'm flattered that you accepted my answer already, I would suggest that you leave it open for a bit longer to encourage other people to give their answers. My answer was not a very good answer in the sense that it's only reasoning and not drawing upon any reliable sources :) $\endgroup$
    – Armatus
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 12:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are presumably also availability factors. If bland or slightly bitter foods are easily acquired relative to sweet and rich foods, then mere hunger might be sufficient motivation for consumption. Overconsumption is perhaps the major danger of good-tasting foods; when they are rare/expensive this is less of a danger. Also it takes time and selective pressure to deliver an evolutionary change; modern agriculture and commerce are somewhat new. If health detriments are primarily quick death at post-reproductive age, the selective pressure against such might be relatively low. $\endgroup$
    – user1858
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 13:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Armatus body fat is a special case, and not that related to micronutrient deficiencies. I do not believe there are any cultures anywhere in which rickets, pockmarked skin, missing teeth, and other signs of vitamin deficiency are valued. $\endgroup$
    – octern
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 16:50

Vegetables provide calories and don't kill you. For a hunter-gatherer, that's reason enough to eat them even if you don't like the flavor a lot. Finding nourishing foods "repellent" is a modern luxury.

Additionally, the bitter flavors in vegetables may be less noticeable to people who were not raised from infancy with hyperpalatable, sugar-sweetened food.


To a certain extent how much people like various foods is a relative thing. Vegetables are indeed more desirable as food over, say, rocks, but often less desirable than, say, cake. Our bodies get more energy from sugar than vegetable matter, so evolutionarily we prefer the taste of sugar.

This is complicated by the fact that our tastes are often learned/environmental. Like, I love clams but I know many people hate clams; there isn't some biological reason for this, it just comes down to I grew up near the coast and they grew up inland.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you please add some references? $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:44

I would suspect there are many reasons from behavioral to genetics to anthropological. I think the answer you are looking for (as you have posted it here) is sensitivity to phenylthiocarbamide or PTC. PTC is an organosulpher thiourea. It has a very bitter taste and the ability to taste PTC is determined by ones genetics. It I s a dominant trait and about 2/3 of the population can taste it. Although it is not found in food there is a large body of evidence linking the ability to taste other thiourea compounds with dietary habits. For example, smokers and coffee nuts are more likely able to taste PTC. They also more often dislike certain vegetables. If you ever want to find out if you have the ability to taste it you can try tasting test strips that contain PTC.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .