‘Binturong’ brand buttered popcorn

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  31. 12. 2022

I have recently posted a photo of a binturong on social networks. If you don’t know what it is and where it came from, you are not the only one. “My daughter wrote an essay on it in 4th grade, and the teacher scolded her that she made up the animal,” Mrs H. K. commented on the photo. And yet we have binturongs also in Prague Zoo, namely in the Indonesian Jungle, although they spend their time high in the branches and are not easy to find. After all, my photo was also taken in Taman Safari in Indonesia.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

I posted the portrait of the binturong to social networks to confirm publicly my thesis that each animal deserves attention, and I invited users to share interesting facts about binturong which they find on the Internet. And really, a considerable amount of information gradually accumulated below the photo. Including information that this carnivore of the viverridae family from South-east Asia smells like buttered popcorn!

It is really true, and this fact also became the subject of serious scientific interest several years ago. An American team led by Professor Christine M. Drea analysed samples of urine of 33 binturongs via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. All the samples contained 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, shortly 2-AP, a substance, which you would find in the university textbooks under a chapter Heterocyclic Aroma Compounds. Of course, it is not listed there because of binturongs, but because it is responsible for the smell of bread, basmati rice or the abovementioned buttered popcorn. It is produced by the Maillard reaction during baking bread, boiling rice, or roasting popcorn, when the reaction between sugars and amino acids occurs due to high temperatures.

It is still unclear, how a binturong synthetises 2-AP or where it gets it from. The substance might be created when the binturong’s urine gets in contact with bacteria or other microorganisms, living on its skin, fur or in intestines. On the other side it is at least in general known what it serves for. When peeing, binturong wets its legs as well as its furry tail and when moving on branches it leaves a scent trail behind, which serves for olfactory communication among the otherwise more or less solitary living animals (this way of sharing information is, after all, essential for all carnivores, as anyone who goes to walk a dog knows: it also must sniff what’s new at the corners). 2-AP may be suitable for such purpose also because it is quite stable, which the team of Professor Drea confirmed after one of the frozen urine samples got stuck on a hot runway during transport to the lab.

The abovementioned result of the search for interesting facts related to binturongs sparked an idea that we could offer ‘Binturong’ brand buttered popcorn in our zoo. With a nice picture of our Palawan binturong on a bag or bucket. I am curious what my colleagues will say about it…