From the enticing aroma of the turkey in the oven to the “whoosh’” of the flames as the brandy-soaked pudding comes alight, Christmas is a wonderful time for the senses. But have you ever considered the science behind our best-loved festive traditions? Here is one of my seven food and flammable favourites: The others can be found on this website.
Oranges are traditionally eaten at Christmas. The smell of orange peel comes from very small amounts of aldehydes, including the eight-carbon molecule octanal, which is slightly smaller than its brother aldehydes used to impart that amazing aroma to perfumes such as Chanel No 5.
More than 90% of the oil you get from the peel is made up of the hydrocarbon limonene, found in lots of other fruits such as lemons and grapefruit. Because it’s a hydrocarbon – slightly larger than the hydrocarbon molecules that make up petrol – it is rather flammable, so don’t try squirting your orange oil at the candles on the table.