12 truths you’d want to know about your Christmas vegetables


Before you dig into those hearty festive dinners, have a little food for thought about all the vegetables you’re eating.


The University of Warwick have compiled this catalogue of fascinating facts on all the festive veggies that’ll definitely put you at ease as you tuck in.

1. Carrots weren’t always orange

Purple carrots(Heather/Flickr)

Having sprung out first in Asia, carrots were originally white and purple, but as farmers began exploiting the changes in the pigment production genes, we’ve now ended up with the orange ones we know today – along with less familiar colours such as yellow, red and black.

2. Boiling destroys the good properties of vegetables

Boiled vegetables(Klearchos Kapoutsis/Flickr)

The British tend to have a standard cooking habit of boiling their vegetables but it seems it’s not the best method to whip up the greens.

Boiling veggies diminishes the anti-cancer properties of many brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and green cabbage.

“If you want to get the maximum benefit from your Christmas vegetables then boiling is out,” said Paul Thornalley, professor of systems biology at Warwick Medical School. “You need to consider stir-frying, steaming or microwaving them.”

3. Parsnips get sweeter in the cold

Parsnips(Chris Radburn/PA)

Parsnips actually used to be used as a sweetening agent themselves because when left in the cold they develop a sweeter taste – it’s all down to the conversion of carbohydrates to sugars.

The vegetables are also an excellent source of many nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and potassium.

4. We’re wired to love or loathe Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts(Matthew Mead/AP/PA)

The dreaded Brussels sprouts cause quite a stir over Christmas dinner and apparently the split is due to our genes – the variants in gene TAS2R38, a receptor on our tongues that perceive bitterness.

“This particular receptor perceives the flavour compounds in Brassicas known as glucosinolates,” explained Dr Graham Teakle, from Warwick Crop Centre.

“The PAV ‘taster’ variant increases the sensitivity to the glucosinolates in Brussels sprouts, causing an unpalatable response, while the AVI variant is referred to as the non-taster form.”

5. Cauliflowers aren’t actually flowers

Cauliflower(Stephen Rafferty/Eye Ubiquitous/PA)

They’re actually a proliferation of millions of meristems, growing tip of a plant shoot where all other plant organs develop.

And cauliflowers are the only plants that do this!

6. Peas and beans help your garden flourish

Peas(Matthew Mead/AP/PA)

If you want a healthier looking garden, grow peas and beans. As legumes, they work with a special soil bacterium called Rhizobium which can fix atmospheric nitrogen to help fertilise your soil.

7. Carrots do actually help your night vision

Carrots(Matthew Mead/AP/PA)

It’s not just a myth your mum made up to get you to finish all your veg, it’s true!

“The orange colour of carrots is due to a compound called beta-carotene,” says Dr Charlotte Allender, from Warwich Crop Centre.

“Beta-carotene is needed to produce vitamin A, which is converted to the retinal pigment used by your eyes to detect light. One of the symptoms of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness – so you could say carrots really do help you see in the dark.”

8. There is such a thing as the UK Vegetable Genebank

Vegetables(Dean Fosdick/AP/PA)

Warwick Crop Centre, Wellesbourne, is home to an internationally-significant collection of seed samples from different vegetables – they’ve even got an array of 1,000 Brussels sprouts.

These and other samples are conserved and made available to plant breeders and researchers across the world.

9. You can mix species of vegetables

Broccoli(Emily Barnes/AP/PA)

“The highly variable shapes of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kales are different forms of the same species – Brassica oleracea – and they can all be inter-crossed with each other,” Dr Teakle explained.

10. There’s a super-vegetable that tastes just like carrots and parsnips

Vegetables(Leif R Jansson/SCANPIX/TT News Agency/PA)

Like carrots? Like parsnips? If the answer to both questions is yes, you might want to try root parsley, which tastes like a mixture of all three crops.

“Carrots, parsnip and parsley are members of the same family of plants, the Apiaceae, which also contains other vegetables and herbs such as celery, fennel and coriander,” revealed Dr Allender.

11. Brassicas are more beneficial than you know

Cabbage(Jens Kalaene/DPA/PA)

That familiar flavour which brassicas (cabbage, brocolli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) have is all down to the plants’ defence chemicals, glucosinolates, which are stored in an inactive form called a “mustard oil bomb”.

When we eat these veggies, the cells break open releasing the glucosinolates into our bodies and, when they come in contact with the enzyme myrosinase, they’re converted into active defence compounds.

“Many also have antioxidant and other health benefits and medical trials are being performed to verify the range of these benefits,” added Dr Teakle.

12. There’s a place you can go to learn how to make the best of your greens

Vegetables(Holly Cuny/Demotix/PA)

The University of Warwick are working on a Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network which will help all veggie-breeders to grow better, more sustainable varieties of brassicas, lettuce, onions and carrots while relying less on the use of pesticides, fertilisers and water.

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