Moms may think they notice what they eat affecting the nursing habits or even future food preferences of their little ones, and they may very well be right.
Although there hasn’t been a ton of research on this subject, there has been some, specifically a Danish study that looked at how long a few strong (and one more bland) flavors could be detected in a lactating mother’s milk after she consumed something with that taste.
That study used flavor capsules, says ABCNews.Go.com, and milk samples were then collected during the ensuing day, with flavors being present in the milk for as long as 8 hours afterward. Cool!
I’m honestly not surprised, though, as a mother of two and big fan of extended breastfeeding.
Not only does it just sort of seem to make sense, but my own milk appeared greenish, for example, when I pumped during a time that I was eating a lot of salads with dark leafy greens. And most moms I’ve ever talked to have noted their babies’ bowel movements and preferences. Both, have seemed affected by this or that food that they ate as nursing mothers.
So, with the results of the Danish study and the observations of moms in mind, and assuming the flavors may be concentrated enough to then be present in the breastmilk, let’s take a look-see at 20 things moms can eat that might actually affect the taste of their milk for the baby.
20 Liquorice And The Like
The flavor of liquorice, which can be a quite strong one, is one that was shown to affect the taste of a mother’s milk during the day after she consumed it, says ABCNews.Go.Com of the often-cited Danish study on the subject:
“Liquorice flavor peaked strongly in breast milk two hours after the capsule, as did the caraway seed flavor.”
So we will explore some options with these specific flavors featured, starting first with what many may think of when they think liquorice: that dark candy or other sugary sweet or treat that some seem to crave the flavor of (and some would rather skip).
From the old-fashioned black chews to various hard candies to modern recipe concoctions, liquorice can be found in many dessert dishes.
19 Carrots For Crunching
What’s orange and crunchy and when eaten by nursing mothers can affect their baby’s taste for the food? Carrots.
That is what Romper.com reports of a study by Julie Menella, who conducted research on the topic.
She had breastfeeding moms drink carrot juice every day, and then those moms would offer cereal flavored with carrots to their breastfed babies.
“The children who had ingested carrot-flavored breast milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal than the other children and seemed to enjoy it more,” Romper says of the findings.
On their own, they’re a classic snack, or add fresh ones to salads.
18 Garlic, Balsamic & Parmesan Spread
“Karen Sussman-Karten, 48, of Newton, Mass., noticed her three children nursed differently when she ate certain foods,” according to ABCNews.Go.com. The mom claimed that when she ate garlic, her babies drank more, and she thought the variety of flavors was probably nice.
Well, garlic certainly is a strong flavor, and delicious to eat, too. So we’ll include some dishes that boast its goodness, the flavor of which has been shown to be transmitted to moms’ milk, includes Romper.com, speaking about a researcher’s findings as shared with NPR.
One of strongest garlic tastes I’ve ever had is when it’s raw, and one of my favorite ways to eat it was as a dip / spread I had at a favorite Italian restaurant back in the day.
I replicate the mixture, perfect for dunking crusty bread, by mincing up a few cloves of garlic and stirring them with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and finely grated parmesan cheese. You’re welcome.
17 Minty Desserts
Mint flavors were detectable, to be sure, found the Danish study on lactating mothers, reported Romper.com and ABC.com.
Mint oils and flavorings might be found in many sweet treats, to be sure, with some of the ever-present ones when I was growing up still being easily found today.
Mint chip ice cream may be the first one that comes to mind.
Or how about creamy candies coated with chocolate, such as York peppermint patties, or Junior Mints?
I was always kind of a fan of those little rectangular after-dinner mints, Andes.
From mint cremes to chocolates to ice creams and beyond, mint is often used to make sweets fresh and fun, and this strong flavor was shown to come through in the milk of nursing mothers, too.
16 Caraway Seed Rye Bread
A couple of hours after mothers consumed caraway seed flavors via capsules, the flavors peaked in their breast milk, according to the findings of an often-cited Danish study that was covered at ABC.com and elsewhere.
So I went in search of some hit recipes that include this flavor, and I came to understand that rye breads are a classic application.
“My parents were emigrants from Czechoslovakia, and my mother would pull out this rye bread recipe when guests came over for dinner,” said Millie Feather, of Baroda, Michigan, according to TasteOfHome.com. “Today, every time I bake it, I get nostalgic for those days.”
If you think you might try including the taste in your own breastfed babe’s memories from the get-go, you might consume caraway seed rye bread yourself.
The full recipe can be found via the link at the bottom of this article, but basically it’s a yeasted bread with brown sugar, caraway seeds, and a portion of rye flour in it.
15 Mexican Rice
As mentioned previously, a (strong and delicious, if you ask me) flavor that has been shown to transfer to lactating mothers’ milk is garlic (as reported by ABC, Romper, and beyond). While I’ve been known to eat the stuff raw on top of toast, and include cloves upon cloves of it in recipes that call for only a few, the garlicky thing on my mind right now is Mexican rice — because I made it last night and ate it for lunch today.
Onion, tomato, chicken stock, and tomato paste were in all the recipes we found online. So in our own version, we use a BUNCH of garlic, which is sautéed just a bit with the browning rice in oil before simmering with the rest of the ingredients on the stove to cook the rice grains.
14 Chicken With Licorice & Ginger
I don’t like black licorice candy, and I know some people just aren’t fans, so I figured we should explore some ways the strong flavor might be used a bit more subtly as a seasoning in dishes.
Take, for example, sautéed chicken with licorice and ginger, as was included in the cooking section of NYTimes.com.
You’ll need a 500-degree oven preheating, and oil and butter in a Dutch oven or casserole dish over high heat.
You season the chicken with pepper and salt, and brown it well on both sides before tucking minced veggies, ginger, and mushrooms under the meat, then dusting it over with 1/2 teaspoon of licorice powder, along with aamchur powder or lemon juice.
With carrots and wine on top, you’re almost ready for the oven and finish with any needed additional seasonings afterward. (See the link at the bottom of this article for exact amounts and times.)
13 Savory Licorice Potatoes
For another use of licorice in cooking, how about a savory side? A “Rack of Lamb with Artichokes, Purple Potatoes and Licorice” was included at FoodAndWine.com, and not only will those purple potatoes look cool — they might also spice up your breast milk flavor with notes of licorice.
In a large saucepan, you cover the taters with a couple of inches of water and season that with salt before bringing it to a boil.
“Cook over moderate heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and add the remaining 1/2 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water. Season with salt and coarsely mash with a fork; add more cooking water if necessary. Stir in the licorice powder, if using,” explains Food & Wine (and you can find the link to the exact recipe at the bottom of this article).
12 Fennel Seeds
Because liquorice and caraway flavors were shown to last in breastmilk in the hours after those flavors were consumed, we’ll also include that other veggie known for its liquorice flavors: fennel.
It’s high in Vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, notes OneGreenPlanet.org, and while “it may resemble celery or onions, the health benefits of fennel are much greater than either of these two foods. Because of fennel’s high antioxidant properties, some research has even been done to show that fennel may help prevent cancer.”
The same site notes that it can help with digestive issues, too, and adds that the seeds, specifically, are used to give extra flavor to many Italian recipes, such as sausage, veggies, crackers, and breads.
11 Fresh Or Dried Mint
Another flavor that was found to show up in the milk of lactating mamas after they consumed it themselves was fresh as can be: mint.
A study about flavor compounds and lactating mothers that was published in Physiology & Behavior “found that while mint didn't seem to affect a mother's milk too much,” according to Romper.com, it was present, peaking at something like six hours after it was ingested.
ABC News notes the same, both the lower concentrations of this flavor that were present as well as the six-hour peak.
Let’s start with the basic use of it, then, either consumed raw or, for example, dried as an herb or in tea.
My mouth is watering because we grew various varieties in our yard back home when I was a kid, so I’d simply pluck a sprig every now and then and gnaw on it.
10 Carrot Cakes
Well, sure, some people enjoy munching carrots like bunnies or tossing them into salads, and it’s been shown that moms who drank carrot juice regularly while nursing had babies who were more likely to eat carrots with their early solid-foods meals (as reported at ABCNews.Go.com and Romper.com).
For some, though, carrots are the perfect ingredient, especially when they’re in something baked and sweet.
Carrots are already quite sweet on their own, and the veggies are key components in classic carrot cake as well as other cakes, breads, and muffins.
Plus, one way to look at it? It’s a great excuse to eat cream-cheese frosting…
9 Savory Dishes With Minty Twists
Now, I’d like to note that including something like fennel or mint in a recipe is probably a bit different than consuming the “flavor capsule” mentioned earlier as being used in the study about lactating mothers’ milk; but if a flavor has been shown to come through, we can probably at least assume that the potential for transfer of even small amounts is there, right?
You and your doc are the ones to work out what you want to be consuming, but I know that I would probably be more likely to get my mint from savory dishes these days, as opposed to chowing down on sweets and candy. So let’s think about the classic use of mint in savory dishes, such as with lamb, chicken, or steak.
One “Turkish spice mix” included at EatingWell.com includes paprika, mint, cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and cloves.
FoodNetwork.com and FoodAndWine.com include recipes for such enticing protein dishes as spicy beef with mint flavors and lamb chops with herbs, spices, and minty asparagus.
8 Garlic Bread
“Julie Menella, a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told NPR that garlic is a flavor that has been proven to be transmitted into a mother's breast milk,” reports Romper.com. “In fact, garlic capsules were given to mothers and participants in the 2008 study and the garlic samples were easily picked out of a line-up.”
The same site notes that, as included in Parents, a study back in the 1990s showed babies nursed longer and sucked harder when their mom’s had consumed a garlic pill. Crazy!
Scraping fresh garlic across toasted French bread, sometimes also swabbing the bread in garlic-y butter, is the classic stuff of BBQs, cookouts, and family dinners, and who knows? The very youngest family member may get to enjoy some of those flavors, as well!
7 Roasted Garlic
As reported by sites such as Romper.com and Parents, researchers have found more than once that the strong taste of garlic, which to me is one of the most tasty things in the world, is indeed passed to a nursing mother’s milk. Cool!
While it can be a nice ingredient and flavoring, have you ever tried just eating it, roasted a while, as a dish itself?
It can be fished out with a little fork and eaten just like that or spread onto toast, or of course then incorporated in some other dish or sauce.
You just chop off the tips of the head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil, season as you wish, and wrap it in foil before putting it into a hot oven for a little while, getting it as roasted as your personal taste requires.
6 Carrot Juice
If you drink carrot juice on its own, or maybe add it to your smoothies, your baby may be getting a taste for it, as well.
ABCNews.Go.com notes this about carrots, specifically (as do other sites), in an article about breastfeeding moms passing flavors of the foods they consume to their nursing babies.
"The fact that the flavor is passed to the milk is known," said Nicolas Stettler, assistant professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the same site reports. “He believes that more studies on the link between mothers' breast milk and the child's future eating habits could be interesting and potentially influential to the future of pediatric care.”
The professor also noted the study we mentioned earlier, showing babies being more likely to eat carrots when their moms had consumed the juice regularly.
5 Fennel Stalks
Let’s get a little more crunchy-munchy here as we cover another favorite part of fennel, that plant famous for its liquorice flavors (a taste that was shown to show up in mothers’ milk hours after they consumed it).
The fennel stalks might be used instead of celery, which is sort of similar, in some ways, to them, notes OneGreenPlanet.org.
The same site notes that the edible stalks may not be all that common in recipes, but you can just eat them raw if you want to, such as after chopping them up and putting them in salads and wraps and stuff.
4 Caraway Pickles
Many sources, including ABC, reported on the fairly recent Danish study showing that flavors, especially anise-like ones and caraway, can be detected in a mother’s milk a few hours (or more) after she consumes them herself, and I found after some Internet research of my own that caraway is commonly used in pickling.
In case you didn’t get enough of the preserved cucumbers via your pregnancy cravings (sorry to be cliché, but it was just too easy…), try out caraway pickles, as included at BonAppetit.com (see a link to the full recipe in the sources at the bottom).
You’ll need cucumbers cut into rounds, sugar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, caraway seeds, red pepper flakes, and a cinnamon stick.
3 Fennel Fronds
So if you picture the fennel plant, now think of the very top, the wispy green parts that are at the very end of the fennel stalk.
These are the fronds, and they might sort of look like dill, notes OneGreenPlanet.org in a piece about the benefits of eating the various parts of the fennel plant.
You might use the fronds much like you would something like parsley or dill, but the flavor is much like that of liquorice.
You might try this addition to a slaw or salad “for a little extra zing in each bite,” says the same site as above.
You can also incorporate fennel fronds in marinades or stocks, or even be bold and use them as you would basil to make a pesto or a fennel pie!
2 Fennel Bulb
Let’s get down to it, literally: to the bulb of the fennel plant.
This might not be the part that has the strongest liquorice flavor, and we of course don’t really have any way of knowing how strongly the flavors might or might not come through in a mother’s milk after she eats this, but we do know of that aforementioned Danish study that found other liquorice flavors did show up noticeably in mothers’ milk in the hours after consumption.
In case you wanna give it a try, though, check out some uses for the fennel bulb, which is what people are usually talking about eating when they talk about using fennel, notes OneGreenPlanet.org. It’s sort of like an onion or shallot and can be sliced up like you would these. It’s crisp and has a bit of a sweet taste, and it can be eaten raw, such as in a salad.
Roasting is another fun option, perhaps even with some potatoes and carrots with oil and fresh herbs. Stir fry provides even more options for use…
Yep, if you’re not a fan of liquorice but are interested in a more subtle flavor, fennel might be just the thing!
1 All The Things
Here’s the thing: Even though there hasn’t been a ton of research about food flavors being passed to babies via their mommas’ milk, the studies (such as the Danish one included by ABC.com and many others) that have been done show that many flavors, particularly strong ones, are transferred.
“OK, so there may be evidence backing specific flavors, but pretty much everything you eat affects your breastmilk,” says Romper.com. “The Mayo Clinic notes that eating a wide variety of foods is sure to expose your little one to all different types of flavors as your breast milk changes with your diet.”
The things that come to my mind that my own babes surely must have tasted include red onion, spicy hot sauce, bell and other peppers, and more. Delicious!