The secret of the scent of basil

Their study, published in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal PLoS ONE, provides a three-dimensional snapshot of the enzyme basil Eugenol Synthase frozen in mid-action as it produces eugenol, the fragrant molecule responsible for basil’s spicy overtones reminiscent of cloves and cinnamon. This particular enzyme is very interesting since it belongs to a large family of enzymes that perform what we call household reactions but, through evolutionary selection, acquired an additional and completely new function, says Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joseph P. Noel, Ph.D, director of the Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics, who led the study. Eugenol Synthase takes a basic building block that is usually employed to make wood and turns it into something that is almost the complete opposite of wood a volatile molecule that easily becomes airborne, is highly aromatic and possesses antimicrobial and pain-dulling properties,” marvels Noel. . . .

[ read more How basil gets its zing]

The scent that make your basil smell and taste so wonderful is one of many scents plants use to attract bees and butterflies for pollination, and use to scare off critters that might find the plant tasty. It would seem the basil plant missed on that part, since we all find basil so tasty. Eugenol rich plants, like basil and cloves help preserve food and often have antiseptic properties.

Scientists hope to learn enough to be able to produce these enzymes with out the plants to use in food production and to better understand how and why plants evolved into todays versions of themselves.

PLoS One, Structure and Reaction Mechanism of Basil Eugenol Synthase