The nutritional significance, biosynthesis and bioavailability of glucosinolates in human foods

R.F. Mithen, M. Dekker, R. Verkerk, S. Rabot, I.T. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

365 Citations (Scopus)


The glucosinolates are a large group of sulphur-containing compounds which occur in all the economically important varieties of Brassica vegetable. Their common structure comprises a -D-thioglucose group, a sulphonated oxime moiety and a variable side-chain derived from methionine, tryptophan or phenylalanine. When the plant tissue is damaged the glucosinolates are hydrolysed by the endogenous enzyme myrosinase (thioglucoside glycohydrolase EC 3:2:3:1), to release a range of breakdown products including the bitter, biologically active isothiocyanates. Although these compounds exert antinutritional effects in animals there is also substantial evidence that they are the principal source of anticarcinogenic activity in Brassica vegetables, and this provides a strong motive for the manipulation of glucosinolate levels in vegetables for human consumption. This review provides an overview of the evidence for a beneficial role for glucosinolates in human health, and describes the current state of knowledge regarding the genetics and biosynthesis of glucosinolates, their chemical analysis, their behaviour during cooking and processing, and their bioavailability to humans. As the genetic basis of glucosinolate biosynthesis becomes more apparent, and tools for marker-assisted plant breeding become more available, the selective breeding of horticultural brassicas with different levels and types of glucosinolates, whether by conventional means or genetic manipulation, is becoming a practical possibility. However before this strategy becomes commercially viable, the health benefits of glucosinolates for human beings must be unequivocally established
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-984
JournalJournal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Brassicas
  • Glucosinolates
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Plant breeding
  • Processing


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