From the enticing aroma of the turkey in the oven to the “whoosh’” of the flames as the brandy-soaked pudding comes alight, Christmas is a wonderful time for the senses. But have you ever considered the science behind our best-loved festive traditions? Here is one of my seven food and flammable favourites: The others can be found on this website.
Around 40% of Brussels sprouts produced for the UK market are eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And if you’re one of those people who find Brussels sprouts bitter, there may well be a genetic reason for it. In 2006, scientists found that the presence of the TAS2R38 gene leads to a receptor that comes up with the “bitter” response when tasting Brussels sprouts and others in the brassica family. This bitter taste is down to compounds called glucosinolates, such as sinigrin, which are there for a reason: they help plants including Brussels sprouts, horseradish and mustard fend off insect predators.
It’s not all bad, though, as scientists have also found that the glucosinolates in sprouts break down to give a molecule called sulforaphane, which has promise in fighting some cancers. So eat up those greens.