Brussels sprouts Image: Eric Hunt/Wikimedia Commons.
Home » A Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: …and a peak at Christmas still to come?

A Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: …and a peak at Christmas still to come?

Brussels sprouts  Image: Eric Hunt/Wikimedia Commons.
Brussels sprouts Image: Eric Hunt/Wikimedia Commons.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in the Cuttings’ household without Brussels sprouts (which are traditionally eaten – usually reluctantly – on the 25th of December in the UK – but nobody I know knows why…). Sadly, I couldn’t find a festive sprout-related item. But I have one about the next best thing: broccoli.  Why is broccoli the next best thing to sprouts? Both are cultivars of the same plant species – Brassica oleracea (the good old cabbage). Furthermore, both of those cruciferous vegetables are very much ‘acquired tastes’ and frequently shunned by anybody under the age of about 35. But a new variety of broccoli – Beneforté – has been developed by a team at the UK’s Norwich-based Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre in which the level of glucoraphanin is 2–3 fold higher than in standard broccoli. Glucoraphanin is a phytonutrient that is thought to help explain the link between eating broccoli and lower rates of heart disease and some forms of cancer, and also leads to a boost in the body’s antioxidant enzyme levels. Glucoraphanin – upon enzymic transformation to sulforaphane – works by breaking fat down in the body, preventing it from clogging the arteries. Beneforté is now available in the food halls of certain Marks & Spencer stores in the UK – in plenty of time for this Christmas!, and due to be rolled out nationwide in 2012. Although Beneforté is probably not quite the ‘all your Christmases have come at once present’ that the sensationalist headline in the Sun newspaper – ‘Super broccoli to fight Big C’ (a euphemism for cancer – Ed.) – would have us believe, it certainly sounds like a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the excitement surrounding this announcement is somewhat tempered by the revelation that this variety has been on sale in the US states of California and Texas ‘for the past year’! Why? Is the great British public not worthy enough of the health benefits of a UK-created vegetable? Or are the Americans being treated like human guinea pigs by their former colonial masters? These are questions that need to be asked, and answered!

Broccoli Image: Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons
Broccoli Image: Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons

But, in the true Christmas spirit of giving, and in a reciprocity that befits the true strength of the special bond that is the trans-Atlantic alliance (and with the goal of spreading more brassicaceous glad tidings), the USA’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) is no doubt pleased to share news that mineral levels in new varieties of broccoli have not declined in the last 35 years. Using ‘inductively coupled plasma–optical emission spectroscopy’ Mark Farnham and colleagues (Crop Science, 2011) examined 14 broccoli cultivars released in the USA during the last half-century. They concluded that, although there were cultivar differences in respect of several minerals, no significant differences had occurred since 1975, when hybrids became the standard cultivar and the vegetable grew in prominence as a component in the US diet. I have no information on the mineral content of the UK’s Super Broccoli, but such data may be superfluous, because, and in probably the year’s most spectacular PR-marketing faux-pas, we are assured that Beneforté ‘tastes just like the normal version’. Such an admission should guarantee that few people eat it given that the normal reaction is; ‘Broccoli? Yuk!’ – well, nobody under 35, anyway (but that is probably not the target demographic for any cancer-averting properties… and who may not have sufficient disposable income to shop at M&S, ‘a British retailer headquartered in the City of Westminster, London’).

Merry Christmas, Glæd Geol,¡Feliz Navidad!,Joyeux Noël, Nadolig llawen, A Blythe Yule, Beannachtaí na Nollag , God Jul, krismas mubarak, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Noflike Krystdagen, Noflike Krystdagen… etc, Everybody!

P. Cuttings [‘Google’s own’ Nigel Chaffey]


[In case you were wondering how Mr Cuttings had become so polyglot, his secret is out, he’s been to – Ed.]

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that international plant science journal for almost 10 years. As a freelance plant science communicator I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Plant Cuttings [] (and formerly at Botany One []). In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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