05.27.11

A heartwarming tale of family and food

Posted in Extremism, Phlogiston at 1:50 pm by George Smith

Brussels sprouts, terrible things, in my book.

And they’re part of the basis for this afternoon drive-by entertainment piece on the world’s most bitter foods and who has choked them down in Guinness book record-breaking amounts.

The blurb reads:

You won’t find the bitterest taste in nature — it was created in a lab by accident. Bitter foods are inedible for some people, others barely notice — but kids are the most sensitive of all…

I find Brussels sprouts inedible and the science of it is very briefly explained here:

According to ABC (Australia), a genetics study coming out of the University of Barcelona currently published in the journal Biology Letters focuses on one particular [human] gene in the sequence that, when present, makes an individual sensitive to the taste of the organic compound phenylthiocarbamide.

This chemical is present in Brussels sprouts as well as cabbage and broccoli, and importantly from an evolutionary perspective, in many poisonous plants.

More explanation, from an another source:

Love them or hate them, around 40% of the sprouts produced for the UK market are consumed in the weeks up to and including Christmas day. But the varieties on the table today are very different from those that we would have been eating in the past, according to Peter van der Toorn, head of R&D in the leafy vegetables section at agrochemicals major Syngenta.

‘We don’t have real bitter tasting sprouts anymore,’ Van der Toorn says. ‘Our product range has moved to a series of “classic” tasting varieties and another series of super mild tasting varieties. But even the classic tasting sprouts are not as bitter as they were …

Some of the glucosinolates present in Brussels, for example, include glucoraphanin, glucobrassicin, sinigrin and progoitrin. Sinigrin and progoitrin relate to the bitter taste on eating Brussels sprouts. However, the story is complicated as a mixture of glucosolinates and other compounds are involved in the bitterness and flavour of Brussels, and this taste experience varies from person to person.

‘There are genetic differences between individuals that make us more or less sensitive to these bitter flavours,’ Mithen explains. ‘These genetic differences affect the expression of taste receptors that make the individual more or less sensitive to some of the compounds in Brussels.’

I’m apparently one of those people who perceive Brussels sprouts as irredeemably horrid. If force fed them, I gag.

Which is just what my mother used to do to me back in the Sixties.

When I was a kid dinner featuring Brussels was really to be dreaded. Just the odor of them cooking evoked a vague nausea.

My mother, never a reasonable person, took my perception that they were revolting as a personal affront. She would set the timer on the stove to five or ten minutes and threaten that I needed to eat the things before the alarm dinged.

If I couldn’t eat them, and such was almost always the case, the punishment was a leather belt and the rest of the evening confined to the bedroom.

“Look at the kid, he’s gagging, he’s gagging!” cackled the parents, insane with anger at the temerity of my reaction at the dinner table. Over forty years later it’s still fresh in the mind.

Good times, good times.

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