Don't eat sprouts if you'd rather not



It's only early December and already I am sick of supermarkets getting all confused about the meaning of Christmas. There's Iceland, spoiling Christmas for everyone by associating it in our minds with prawn rings and some horror called a "beef garland". Then there's Sainsbury's, whose adverts claim to show "the moments that make Christmas special – brought to you by Sainsbury's", while actually showing all the special things that can't be bought in a shop.

Now even Waitrose is trying to ruin Christmas by inventing a new kind of sprout which doesn't taste of sprout. Isn't that a bit like wrapping up an empty box and giving it to someone as a present?

An evolutionary theory has emerged to explain why children don't like sprouts – or other bitter foods such as grapefruits, olives, and coffee. It's called being a "supertaster" and occurs in about 20 per cent of the population. It has to do with the number of fungiform papillae on the tongue and sensitivity to the chemical phenylthiocarbamide, and one hypothesis is that an aversion to greens is helpful to prevent children from eating poisonous plants. It also sounds a lot more impressive than just being a fussy eater.

Over the years, chefs and parents have come up with ingenious ways of persuading people to eat sprouts. Nigella says that they are "nutty, fresh, gorgeous", and cooks them with ricotta, gruyere, butter, garlic, olive oil and parmesan, or sometimes with Marsala wine. There is not much that doesn't taste nice when it is cooked with three types of cheese and some booze, so this recipe doesn't improve a great deal on the old trick of cooking sprouts "with bacon", and making sure that there is a lot more bacon than sprout. Meanwhile, last week, Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted that he was: "Getting closer to perfect sprout risotto. Dolcelatte, lemon, tarragon..." Yup, that would disguise the taste of the green bits.

Last week, it was even claimed that sprouts are an aid to fertility. Nine per cent of babies are conceived in December, apparently – more than in any other month. And some experts are putting this partly down to all the sprouts, which are high in vitamins and folic acid. Right … because if there's one thing served at Christmas parties that's bound to lead to a sudden outbreak of pregnancy, it's definitely the sprouts.

Others, meanwhile, claim sprouts are an effective contraceptive because they lead to wind. This cannot be true because, as any true scientist knows, women don't fart. Remember last week's theory that male and female brains are "wired differently"? Well, also our bums are wired up differently, which is why when ladies eat sprouts we merely emit a faint aroma of Chanel No 5.

This last fact is less true than all of the others, but still not as silly as a lot of the nonsense talked about Christmas. Eat and drink whatever makes you merry this Christmas, and if you don't like sprouts, don't buy them. You can always replace them with a prawn ring (if you're really weird).

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