Many millennia ago, when we were first crawling out of our caves in search of food, lots of green plants looked really tempting. But some were poisonous and thus definitely not fit to eat. Some of us survived a first tasting because if they tried even a tiny bite, the reaction was, “Ick, that’s bitter.” So they tossed the stuff.
Today, we know that these people carried a gene that makes them sensitive to the flavor of a chemical called phentylthiocarbamide (PTC) whose structure is similar to bitter compounds in broccoli and its cruciferous/Brassica family relatives: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and radishes.
This link was discovered by accident in 1931 when a DuPont chemist named Arthur Fox was working with PTC powder and some of it blew around the room to land on the tongue of fellow worker whose reaction was the classic, “Ick.” This surprised Fox, whose curiosity led to a series of taste tests with friends and family, some but not all of whom found it bitter. After that it was a genetic hop, skip, and jump to identifying the culprit: TAS2R38, a gene that comes in the usual dominant and recessive forms.
If one of your parents delivered a dominant gene, you definitely won’t like broccoli. Two recessive genes? No problem, a genetic thing so clear that PTC tasting was commonly used in paternity cases until the more reliable DNA testing arrived on scene.
PTC isn’t the only anti-broccoli actor. People sensitive to a second compound, n-propylthiouracil (PROP), are called supertasters which means they also dislike saccharin, grapefruit, soy, the salt substitute potassium chloride, and two preservatives, sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate.
PTC and PROP people are more likely to be female, but one famous male member of the group, George H.W. Bush, used a press conference on March 22, 1990 to make his position clear: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” And then he banned it not only from the White House but from Air Force one as well.
Two recent reports, the first in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy (2013) and he second in the second in the American Laryngological Association’s Laryngoscope (2017) found PTC sensitive receptors in the cells lining your nose, suggesting that the broccoli gene may have qualities unrelated to flavor perhaps the ability to detect bacteria and other invaders.
While you’re waiting for science to prove or disprove that, you can test your own PTC/PROP status with a kit available on Amazon.
And if all goes well, enjoy these broccoli pancakes.
6 oz cooked broccoli florets, minced or processed
1/3 cup buttermilk pancake mix
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1 medium onion, chopped
1. Divide the chopped onion into four small piles on a (preferably) on-stick pan, put a bit of butter or margarine atop each pile, and heat slowly.
2. Combine the pancake mix and Parmesan, adding 5 tablespoons of cold water for a thick mixture that will pick up moisture from the broccoli as it cooks.
3. Fold the broccoli in into the pancake mix and stir completely.
4. When the onions are translucent, spoon broccoli/pancake mix on top of each pile, placing a bit of butter or margarine
5. Cook until the pancakes bubble in the middle, then flip and cook until done.
This recipe makes four 2-inch pancakes, but is easily doubled should you wish this political season to share breakfast with broccoli Democrats Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Republican consultant Bill O’Reilly and blogger Ed Morrissey (HotAir.com) to join. Just don’t serve celery. Dick hates that.