Poor, maligned Brussels sprouts. They’ve been used as the target of vegetable jokes for decades and consistently top Americans’ “most-hated vegetables” lists. Because of their reputation, even people who’ve never tried a Brussels sprout think they somehow “know” they won’t like them. But recently Brussels sprouts have mounted a mighty comeback, landing on menus at trendy restaurants, benefiting from creative new cooking methods and winning over their critics.
Admittedly, sprouts can have a bitter flavor if they are picked at the wrong time in their growth cycle or if proper cooking techniques aren’t followed. However, over the past 20 years or so, different crop variations have evolved to breed varieties that contain fewer glucosinolates, the compound responsible for the odor and bitter flavor sprout-rejecters from generations past may remember. Many current varieties are not only much milder, they’re even a little sweet.
Brussels sprouts started being widely cultivated in Belgium around the 16th century, taking their name from the well-known Belgian city of Brussels and becoming popular in Northern Europe. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, though, that the crop took off in the U.S. Most sprouts eaten in the U.S. are produced in California, and their harvest season lasts from June to January. However, you can enjoy healthy sprouts year-round, since about 80 to 85 percent of the U.S. crop is frozen for later consumption.
The upswing in this savory veggie’s popularity is a great development for their converts’ health, because Brussels sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse. Not only are they low in fat and calories and cholesterol free, these cruciferous vegetables — in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale — are chock-full of vitamins C, K, A and B6 as well as folic acid, fiber and iron. They’re also rich in other micronutrients the body needs, like manganese, choline, copper, potassium and phosphorus.
Rather than preparing sprouts using the “boil them until they’re soggy” cooking method of yesteryear, today’s modern recipes utilize methods like roasting, shredding, steaming, stir-frying and even grilling, which bring out and intensify their natural sweetness. You can even make crunchy, savory “chips” out of them. Just avoid overcooking, which is what causes a strong odor and flavor to come out.
So, if you have been among the crowd of Brussels-bashers but haven’t tried these delicious miniature cabbage look-alikes in a while, give sprouts another chance. Prepared well, they are tasty and full of flavor — and your body will thank you for the nutritional boost!