Vegetable of the Month: Brussels Sprouts
The first crisp days of fall hail the arrival of Brussels sprouts. Hardy, hearty, and healthy, these cruciferous mini-cabbages are chock full of nutrients and flavor and contain potent anti-cancer properties. Look out for a fresh crop on your next visit to your local Farmers’ Market!
Photo by Larry Street, taken at the Hollywood Farmers Market
Background & History
It’s unclear when Brussels sprouts were first cultivated: depending on the source, they originated in the 5th, 13th, 16th, or 17th centuries. What we do know is that Brussels sprouts were first grown in Europe, grew in popularity in Northern Europe (including in and around Brussels), and reached North America with French settlers to Louisiana.
Brussels sprouts have since spread throughout North America and grow in abundance in areas with cooler climates, including throughout California. Scientists even have plans to grow these hardy sprouts on the moon.
Characteristics & Types
Crucifers like Brussels sprouts are known for their cancer-preventing properties. Full of disease-fighting phytochemicals, they can also provide support to your body’s detoxification, antioxidant, cardiovascular, and digestive systems—not to mention that Brussels sprouts are packed with vitamins and other nutrients like folate, potassium, fiber, iron, and calcium.
The plants come in two general types: short and tall. There are a number of cultivars that fall into one of these two general categories. The variation in cultivars results from various climates and growing seasons. Although all Brussels sprouts are “cool-weather” crops, the shorter “Jade Cross E” cultivar does well in comparatively colder climates and matures earlier. The taller cultivars, like the “Sheriff,” are adapted to longer, warmer growing seasons.
When buying Brussels sprouts at farmers’ markets or in the store, you can either get them on the stalk or as loose sprouts (more common). The portion of Brussels sprouts that we eat is actually one of the plant’s buds, which start growing at the base of the plant’s stalk and continue to grow up along the stalk as the plant gets taller. Removing the leaves along the stalk while it’s growing help the buds develop fully.
The plant is a biennial plant, which means it grows for two years. It will produce buds the first year of growth but if you want to collect seeds, you have to wait until the second year, when they plant flowers.
Tips & How to Enjoy
Brussels sprouts are in season in California from October through May, so expect to see them at the farmers’ markets soon, if not already! They tend to taste better when they are freshly harvested and not overcooked. Roasting and braising the sprouts with other veggies, meats, and seasonings are popular ways to cook them. Their buttery, mild flavor lends itself well in combination with other ingredients. To help ensure thorough cooking, the sprouts are usually cut in half. Here you can find a number of tasty recipes for roasting Brussels sprouts.
Cooked Brussels sprouts also make a wonderful addition to salads. This recipe has fresh ingredients and a tempting mustard vinaigrette!
Brussels sprouts have greater levels of Vitamin C than oranges and a higher nutritional content (and taste better!) after being exposed to cold temperatures.
Brussels sprouts is also the name of a pencil-and-paper game for the mathematically-inclined.
Burpee’s The Complete Vegetable and Herb Gardener: A Guide to Growing Your Garden Organically, Karan Davis Cutler, 1997.