ChemistryFood

Amuse-Bouche: Tryptophan + Turkey Curry

As a kitchen nerd, I love Thanksgiving.  I appreciate the messages about being thankful for what we have, but let’s be serious—this is a holiday centered around the cooking, eating, and sharing of food. What’s not to love?

Just remember: when you can no longer resist a post-feast nap, don’t blame the turkey. At least, not entirely.

You’ve probably heard that turkey contains something called “tryptophan” and that tryptophan makes you sleepy. You’ve probably also heard that it’s a myth that eating turkey is what causes you to crash after gorging yourself during Thanksgiving dinner. Well, you heard correctly on both counts.

All proteins contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid—that is, our bodies don’t synthesize it, so we have to get it through food. Turkey contains about the same amount of tryptophan as any other meat or poultry, and less than many other foods. In fact, as far as foods you might find on your Thanksgiving table go, pumpkins seeds contain more than twice as much tryptophan per 100 grams as turkey does (0.57g versus 0.24g).

Soy beans, pork sausage, and white rice all contain tryptophan (click to embiggen)

Tryptophan can in fact contribute to drowsiness. It can metabolize into serotonin and then melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. However, studies on whether supplemental tryptophan is safe or effective as a sleep aide have been largely deemed inconclusive and unreliable. When all is said and done, the energy it takes to digest such a large meal (as well as a number of other factors) has a much larger effect on how sleepy you feel after eating than does the amount of tryptophan you consumed.

Thanksgiving turkey does have at least one well-recognized side effect: leftovers. Keep things interesting with this recipe for turkey curry, adapted from Mark Bittman:

Turkey Curry (serves 4) (Want a visual guide to this recipe?)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (more if you like it spicier)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, including liquid
1 cup coconut milk or heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch fresh kale or spinach, trimmed of thick stems, washed and roughly chopped
2 cups leftover turkey (or cooked chicken, paneer, or tofu), roughly chopped
Freshly chopped cilantro (optional)

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook until onions begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and cook, stirring, until spices are fragrant, about another minute.
  2. Add tomatoes and coconut milk or cream and sprinkle with salt and pepper; bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until tomatoes break down.
  3. Add greens and meat/paneer/tofu to pan and continue to cook until greens wilt and meat/paneer/tofu is warmed through, another 3 to 5 minutes (longer if using kale). Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, garnish with cilantro and serve over jasmine or basmati rice.
An “amuse-bouche” (which literally translates to “mouth-amuser”) is a complimentary morsel to start the meal, a tasty little gift from the chef. We hope you enjoy these edible tidbits.
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Anne S

Anne S

Anne Sauer is an atheist with an appetite for science, good food, and making connections between the two. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her favorite foods are salted caramel ice cream and chicken tikka masala. You can find her on twitter @aynsavoy.

13 Comments

  1. November 23, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I might do this for tomorrow, instead of trying to roast anything. Sounds delicious.

    Great first post! <3

  2. November 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    girl_noir, do it! I recommend buying a whole turkey leg or two, poaching it in salted water, then shredding the meat off the bone to use in the curry. Simple!

  3. November 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Wow! I am SO making that recipe! Thanks, Anne!

  4. November 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Also? Fantastic first post!!! Welcome to Mad Art Lab, we are thrilled to have you!

  5. November 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks, Amy!

  6. November 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Alright! Welcome to MAL Anne! Wonderful 1st post. I will be sure to trot this out tomorrow at dinner like I’m a 33 year old Jonathon Lipnicki: “DID YOU KNOW THAT, AS PROTEIN BREAKS DOWN, THAT IT TURNS INTO…”

  7. November 23, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Anne, that sounds brilliant. Provided they have turkey left at the store, I think my Thanksgiving dinner is settled!

  8. November 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Oh, Anne, we are so happy you have joined our merry band of art rogues. Yay for your first knock-it-out-of-the-park first post!

  9. November 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    “Thanksgiving turkey does have at least one well-recognized side effect: leftovers.”

    Made of win. I like that way better than unresolved family rivalries.

    Welcome Anne, and thanks!

  10. November 24, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Here’s a Scientific American post published today that explains the whole process in a bit more detail: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2011/11/23/myths-about-myths-about-thanksgiving-turkey-making-you-sleepy/ Brian, now you can REALLY annoy your dinner companions!

  11. November 25, 2011 at 12:01 am

    I have acquired all ingredients. Curry will happen.

  12. November 25, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Dooo eeeet

  13. November 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    A dozen comments and not one mention of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the turkey curry buffet?

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