Cucurbitacins in plant food

image of Cucurbitacins in plant food

Poisoning due to Cucurbitaceous vegetables seems to be linked to intake of immensely bitter vegetables. The bitter and toxic compounds in these vegetables are cucurbitacins, which are well known in wild varieties of these food plants and their related species. The cultivated forms, on the other hand, have during cultivation been selected for being free of the bitter and toxic compounds. Occasionally, cultivars of cucurbitaceous food plants (e.g. squash) back-mutate and regain the ability to produce toxic amounts of cucurbitacins. This review summarises the information available on cucurbitacins in food plants of the family Cucurbitaceae, with the aim to lay down background information required to evaluate the potential risk of being intoxicated by cucurbitacins as a part of the safety assessment of cucurbitaceous food plants, and especially in relation to genetically modified Cucurbitaceous plants.




As indicated in previous sections, it is not clear whether cucurbitacins occur as glycosides and/or aglycones in the studied food plants. Upon processing of the food in the kitchen or during consumption of fresh plants, it is likely that cellular ß-glycosidases of the plant food will come in contact with the cucurbitacin glycosides and cleave the glycosidic bond. If glycosides survive to the gastrointestinal tract, another possibility is that competent organisms of the gut microflora cleave the glycosidic bond.


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