QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

  • Resumes at the end of March
  • Series T, Episode 12 repeated at 9pm on Dave
  • JustWatch Streaming rank this week: 557

Episode menu

Series S, Episode 5 - Sugar & Spice

QI. Rose Matafeo


- The thing that is sticky and well worth stealing is maple syrup. Over several months between 2011-12, a group of thieves stole 3,000 tons of maple syrup from Canada's global syrup reserves. The Great Maple Syrup Heist is the most valuable heist in Canadian history. Canada makes 80% of the world's maple syrup, 90% of which comes from Quebec, and there is a strategic reserve of about 160,000 barrels worth $1,800 each, controlled by The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ). The reserve is checked only once a year, so the thieves systematically removed some barrels, temporarily replaced them with empty ones, siphoned out the syrup, refilled the barrels with water and replaced them. The plan worked well until an inspector climbed on a stack or barrels and nearly fell because the empty ones were not strong enough to take his weight. After he raised the alarm, they found that at least 9,000 barrels had been emptied, worth $18 million. Motives for committing the crime, apart from the money, may have included bad feelings towards the FPAQ.

- Tangent: Alan proposes an idea for a shopping website where there would be a section you can shoplift from. As a kid, he had friends who had an aquarium who would go into pet shops and shoplift weeds out of fish tanks. When he was about 13, Jason stole a Kinder Egg, and he felt so guilty that he returned it the next day.

- Tangent: Maple syrup comes from tapping sugar maple trees, with Quebec being the world leader. The process normally starts in March because the warmer temperature makes pressure inside the tree increase, so the sap flows more easily from any open orifice. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup was made in the Americas by women from the First Nation tribes long before Europeans arrived. Squirrels also tap trees for sap by biting into them, but rather than eat the syrup in one go, they leave and return, because then the water has evaporated and there is a higher concentration of sugary sap.

- Adult liquorice works by making it extremely salty. The flavour comes from ammonium chloride, known as salmiakki in Finland. Scandinavians believe that the saltier liquorice is, the better it is, but too much ammonium chloride is bad for your health. Thus, the EU wanted to set a cap of 0.3% salt in liquorice, but the adult liquorice is ten times that. This resulted in a genuine fear the Scandinavians, especially the Finns, would leave the EU because of it. Therefore, the EU made an exemption for sweets and ice cream, and packets have to say: "Adult liquorice, not liquorice for children."

- Tangent: Liquorice was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Ancient Romans used liquorice to help with bladder problems, kidney stones and ulcers. The 17th century English physician Nicholas Culpeper recommended taking it against coughs, growths in the eye and ulcers on the genitals.

- Tangent: In the UK, the town most associated with liquorice is Pontefract, West Yorkshire. However, the plant is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. It probably arrived in Pontefract in the 16th century via Dominican monks. By the 1920s, there were ten liquorice factories in the town.

- The head of state that the Spice Girls slept with was the Emperor of China. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), the Emperor's concubines lived in a pepper house. These housed had mud and plaster on the walls, which was mixed with Szechuan pepper which helped to provide a warm, fragrant atmosphere. The plant also symbolised fertility because it had so many seeds, and even today they sometimes use it as confetti at weddings. Szechuan is made out of the dried berries of a prickly ash tree. Eating the peppers causes a tingling, numbing sensation. (Forfeit: Nelson Mandela)

- Tangent: Rose met Nelson Mandela when she was three. He was visiting New Zealand, and the crowd she was in surged forward. Rose was sitting on a barrier next to her brother which she fell off from. Thus Rose started crying. Mandela came up to her, asked Rose why she was crying, and she said: "My brother pushed me!" Thus he tried to comfort her.

- Tangent: The panel are given some Szechuan peppers to taste. They are told to take one, bite into it, let the pepper cover their tongues, but don't swallow the pepper. This leads to paraesthesia, a vibrating sensation. A test of 28 volunteers were given tiny vibrating tools and they adjust the tools until it matched the vibrations caused by the pepper. Szechuan peppercorns make lips vibrate at 50 hertz, the same as a cat's purr.

- The original thing Peter Piper picked was spices. The person behind the tongue twister is believed to be Pierre Poivre, a one-armed 18th century French horticulturist. He was involved in the spice trade, primarily in nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. He started his career as a missionary in China, but he was wrongfully arrested as soon as he arrived. Thus, he taught himself Chinese so he could defend himself in court. When his mission ended he sailed back to France, but there was a skirmish with a British ship, resulting in him losing his arm to a cannonball and having to rest up in Indonesia. While there, he hatched a plan to smuggle spices, as there were the main commodity for trade, with some spices worth more than gold. Spice distribution was completely controlled by the Dutch, to the point where nutmeg seeds were doused in lime before being exported to stop them sprouting and seed smuggling was punishable by death. Poivre was however able to transport over 3,000 plants into Mauritius, Seychelles and Reunion, and thus began growing them himself, and the spice industry as we know it now is thanks to him. (Forfeit: Pickled pepper)

- Tangent: Nutmeg was used to preserve meat on ships. The British traded the Banda Islands with the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan.

- XL Tangent: Nutmeg contains a compound called myristicin which can cause hallucinations in high doses, as well as anxiety, fear, hostility.

- Tangent: The rhyme of Peter Piper was first published in 1813 in the book Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation, which contains tongue twisters for every single letter of the alphabet. Being Series S, the panel show the "S" rhyme which begins: "Sammy Smellie smelt a smell of Small-coal", which Jason recites flawlessly. The audience applaud this, to Alan's annoyance.

- XL: The thing that makes ice cream taste like shit is a chemical. Mammalian and bird faeces get their smell from a high concentration of the molecule skatole (from the Greek for "dung"). It you make too much of it, it causes halitosis; but very low concentrations have a sweet, floral aroma, and thus it is used as a flavour enhancer in ice cream. Skatole is also used in perfumes and cigarettes. (Forfeit: The liquorice)

- XL Tangent: Castoreum is a chemical from the anal glands of beavers which gives depth to vanilla and strawberry flavours. In Sweden, there is a liqueur flavoured with castoreum called "Baverhojt", which was traditionally drunk by beaver trappers.

- XL Tangent: Ice cream vans play "Greensleeves" because the man who brought ice cream vans to the UK in 1958, Mr. Whippy founder Dominic Facchino, was a big fan of Henry VIII, who people wrongly believe wrote the tune. The hat worn by the Mr. Whippy mascot was intended to be in a Tudor style. Ice cream was invented about 200 years after Henry VIII died. One of the reasons ice cream vans have not updated their music is because "Greensleeves" is out of copyright, while another is that people in Britain automatically associate the music with ice cream vans.

- XL Tangent: When Jason was a child there were two ice cream vans: Mr. Whippy and Meski's. Jason's father, a staunch socialist bordering on communist, said that the family were not allowed to eat Mr. Whippy's because it was developed by Margaret Thatcher.

- XL Tangent: At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, Jason read that Greggs the bakers were doing home deliveries, but he later learned it was via an app, when he first thought there would be a Greggs van, akin to an ice cream van.

- XL: The kind of person who gives away their starters is someone who is into sourdough. Sourdough gets its sour flavour from Lactobacillus bacteria, which is introduced to the bread via a "starter" - a mix of flour and water, which is left for a number of days until wild yeast and microbes from the environment have grown. People who are into sourdough are obsessed with them, and can tell whose starter it is because you get particular bacteria on everybody's hands. Theoretically, you can keep the starter alive forever by feeding it flour and water, and it can be passed down from generations. People give names to their starters, with examples being Jane Dough, Joan of Starch, Fred Farter the Bread Starter, John McEndough and Clint Yeastwood.

- XL Tangent: If someone making starters has to travel away from it, you can put it in a sourdough hotel. It was created by Martin Mayer, who runs the Vuaillat Bakery in Zurich, who created the hotel because he took his starter on holiday with him to South Africa, and he was constantly worried about it going wrong in his hot car. In the hotel, each starter is put in its own compartment and the staff are told how to treat it. It costs 49 francs a week.

- XL Tangent: Belgian baker Karl de Smedt is sourdough librarian, who travels the world world collecting interesting starters. He currently has 125 of them. Smedt has since developed an allergy to flour.

- XL Tangent: The difference between ordinary bread and sourdough is the yeast. Most bread comes from a single species of commercial yeast, whereas sourdough takes it from the air, the baker's hands, and from the environment. Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread. In Thebes, you can find 3,500-year-old bread which has baker's handprints in them.

General Ignorance

- The UK gets most of its sugar from the UK itself. Over 50% of the country's sugar is supplied by the British beet sugar industry. The rest comes from the EU and some imported cane sugar.

- Tangent: Britons eat less sugar than they used to. There was a significant increase in sugar intake starting around the 1950s, reaching 47.3kg per capita in 1961. Today it is about 35.2kg.

- XL Tangent: Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, is roughly 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Splenda, which is surcalose, is 600 times sweeter. Neotame is 10,000 times sweeter than sugar.

- William Wrigley Jr. started a company for soap. He set up business in 1891, but his philosophy was that everyone likes something extra for nothing. Thus, he offered baking powder as a promotional item. This was such a success that he went straight into selling baking powder, and gave chewing gum as his free item. The gum became more popular than anything else, and by 1892 he was just selling the gum. By 1893, his Juicy Fruit and Spearmint brands had become favourites, and the original branding is still very similar to what it is today. By 1909, Wrigley's Spearmint was the best-selling gum in the USA, partly because he collected all the addressed from American phone books and sent a free packet to every single home in the country. (Forfeit: Chewing gum)

- Tangent: Chewing gum has been around for thousands of years, with people chewing birch sap. In 2019, scientists at the University of Copenhagen managed to sequence a complete genome of a human being based on the saliva from a discarded piece of chewing gum which was 5,000 years old. The gum came from the island of Lolland, just south of Copenhagen, and the girl whose genome was sequenced was named Lola. From this gum, they were able to deduce that Lola was lactose intolerant, had gum disease, blue eyes, dark skin, dark hair, and had recently eaten a meal of duck with hazelnuts.

- The panel are asked to name any South American country due south of Mexico. The closest they can get to a right answer is Chile, but that is only because one of their possessions is Easter Island. No part of mainland South America is due south of Mexico. All of the continent is due east of Mexico, and 99% of South America is due east of Florida. One way to remember the positions of the Americas is to rotate the landmass 90 degrees anticlockwise, and then it looks similar to a duck in shape. (Forfeit: Brazil; Argentina; Chile)

- Tangent: Jason did say Chile and asks the Elves to remove the klaxon he got. (Forfeit: Sorry)

- If you work for British intelligence, who can tell people that you feel it is essential for them to know your job so that you can do your work. If you want to tell someone, you are assigned an agent handler to discuss the pros and cons of making an informed decision. The general advice is to tell close family members or friends. (Forfeit: Anyone, but you have to kill them afterwards)

- Tangent: Jason rings the klaxon for this question and angrily shouts: "Are you in my head now?" (Forfeit: Yes)

- Tangent: An MI6 employee was invited by the BBC to be interviewed, and he told the interviewer was the sixth person he had told.

- XL Tangent: Jason says it is not the same thing, but he did not tell anyone he was Hedgehog on 'The Masked Singer'. He did not tell his daughter, and on the night of the final she was watching it at a friend's house, and all her friends were saying that Hedgehog was Jason, to which she replied that she would know if her dad was on a TV show. When Jason revealed himself, she was livid. The only time not telling anyone backfired was when he was the phone to Alfie Boe, who said to Jason that he kept getting Tweets asking if he was Hedgehog, so he watched the show and thought: "I'm not that shit at singing, am I?", to which Jason got really defensive about.

- Tangent: Rupert Murdoch was once furious when he was told that former News Of The World editor Rebekah Brooks could not take a call because she had gone to the furniture store MFI. In fact, a PA misheard and Brooks had gone to a meeting at MI5.


- Rose Matafeo: -19 points
- Jason Manford: -20 points
- Alan Davies: -24 points
- Alice Levine: -28 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 7th October 2021
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Monday 23rd May 2022 9:45pm
45 minute version
Friday 6th January 2023 8:20pm Dave
Saturday 7th January 2023 1:20am Dave
Tuesday 28th March 2023 8:20pm Dave
Wednesday 29th March 2023 12:40am Dave
Sunday 10th September 2023 9:20pm Dave
Monday 30th October 2023 10:00pm BBC2
Saturday 30th December 2023 9:00pm Dave

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jason Manford Guest
Alice Levine Guest
Rose Matafeo Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Emily Jupitus Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Aran Kharpal Graphics
Helen Ringer Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

Share this page