Brussels sprouts are probably the most avoided vegetable in the nation. Asking a random group of people what their favorite vegetable is, never once is Brussels sprouts mentioned but it will usually make the least-liked list. But selected, stored and cooked correctly, the Brussels sprout has a delicate, nutty flavor with no resemblance to childhood memories. A wonderful compliment to Thanksgiving and holiday meals, Brussels sprouts are worthy of another try. We promise, they are better than you may remember.
Brief History of Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are related to other better-known vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They are part of the cruciferous or mustard family, so known because of a four-part flower in the shape of a cross.
Sprouts were believed to have been cultivated in Italy in Roman times, and possibly as early as the 1200s in Belgium. The modern Brussels sprout that we are familiar with were first cultivated in large quantities in Belgium (hence the name "Brussels" sprouts) as early as 1587. Some famous botanists, as late as the 17th century, referred to it only as something they had heard about but had never seen. Brussels sprouts are believed to have been first introduced into the U.S. in the 1800s.
Brussels sprouts are a hardy, slow-growing, long-season vegetable though newer hybrids have greatly reduced the growing time. This vegetable needs a long, cool growing season, like that of northern Europe and the British Isles. Most of the crop grown in America is produced on Long Island, New York. In the proper season of the year, it can be grown with fair success in most areas of the country. In mild areas, or where there is deep snow cover, the sprouts may overwinter.
The small head "sprouts" resemble miniature cabbages and are produced in the leaf axils, starting at the base of the stem and working upward. Sprouts improve in quality and grow best during cool or even lightly frosty weather.
Nutritional Info for Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a very good source of many essential vitamins, fiber, and folate. They are especially high in Vitamin C. They, along with their other cruciferous cousins, have been shown to have some very beneficial effects against certain types of cancer, as they contain many different ingredients that are believed to help prevent the disease.
Varieties of Brussels Sprouts
There are several different varieties of hybrid Brussels sprouts. Some of the original varieties developed, particularly Jade Cross, had several characteristics that were desirable, though they tasted rather bitter. The current varieties have an improved taste, and some are almost sweet.
The first variety of the season in the U.S. is a hand-picked variety called Confidant. Confidant is a medium green color, and has a fairly mild taste. This variety is harvested from late June through early October. The late season varieties are Genius and Cobus, and they are available from December through January. These varieties are used because of their better tolerance of the winter weather. Other varieties include:
- Bubbles—produces dependable sprouts that tolerate warm weather
- Jade Cross E—produces larger sprouts that are easier to remove from the stalk than Jade Cross
- Oliver—easy-to-pick and produces attractive sprouts
- Prince Marvel—produces tight, sweet sprouts
- Royal Marvel—tight sprouts and very productive
- Valiant—produces smooth, uniform sprouts
How to Select Brussels Sprouts
At their fullest growth Brussels sprouts scarcely exceed the size of a large walnut. And remember, the fresher the better, when it comes to selecting spouts for cooking. Choose firm compact sprouts that are bright green in color. Fresh Brussels sprouts should be displayed chilled. If they are kept at room temperature, their leaves will turn yellow quickly. Yellow or wilted leaves are signs of age or mishandling. Old sprouts also have a strong, cabbage-like odor. It is best to choose sprouts individually from bulk displays rather than pint or quart tubs. Choose small, firm, compact sprouts with unblemished leaves. Select sprouts that are similar in size: this will allow them to cook more evenly. Avoid sprouts that are puffy or soft.