Brussels sprouts are absolutely a real vegetable! They are a cultivar of the same plant species that cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower belong to. Brussels sprouts grow as multiple small cabbages on a single long stalk, with leaves growing around each cabbagehead. They likely originated and were first cultivated in the Mediterranean region, with the first written record of them appearing in 1587 in Belgium, which is where their name comes from. So while they may look a bit odd compared to some other more familiar vegetables, Brussels sprouts are very much a real, edible plant that has been enjoyed for centuries.
What are Brussels sprouts?
Brussels sprouts are a cultivated variety of the plant species Brassica oleracea. This species also includes cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, broccoli, kohlrabi and more. They are considered a cole crop, meaning they are in the brassica or mustard family. Brussels sprouts grow as multiple small, compact heads along a single tall stalk that can reach 2-3 feet in height. The sprouts themselves are usually about 1-2 inches in diameter.
Each sprout grows tightly packed with leaves, looking almost like a miniature cabbage. There are generally 20-40 sprouts growing along each stalk. The leaves wrap tightly around the sprout heads as they grow, protecting them from the sunlight and elements. This allows the interior leaves to remain pale green or whitish in color, while the outer leaves are a darker green.
Brussels sprouts plants are generally grown as an annual vegetable crop. The edible sprouts are harvested by cutting them off the stalk once the heads reach the desired size, which is usually around 1-2 inches in diameter. Brussels sprouts plants do best when grown in cooler weather and can tolerate light frosts. The sprouts develop their best flavor after the plants experience several frosts.
What do Brussels sprouts taste like?
When cooked properly, Brussels sprouts have a flavor that could be described as a cross between cabbage and broccoli. The sprouts have a mildly sweet, earthy and nutty taste. When overcooked, they can sometimes take on a more bitter flavor.
Here are some notes on the taste profile of Brussels sprouts:
- Mildly sweet and nutty
- Slightly earthy and cabbage-like
- Can have a mildly bitter taste if overcooked
- Flavor is sweeter and more delicate when sprouts are smaller and freshly harvested
- Develop a stronger, more robust flavor after expose to colder fall temperatures
To bring out the best flavor in Brussels sprouts, it’s often recommended to cook them until just tender but still retaining some firmness and bright green color. Roasting, sauteeing, broiling or braising are good cooking methods. They pair well with seasonings like olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice, or nuts and seeds.
Nutrition facts of Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients and are considered one of the healthiest vegetables. Here is an overview of the nutrition facts of Brussels sprouts (based on a 100g/3.5oz serving):
|Vitamin C||85% DV|
|Vitamin K||137% DV|
|Vitamin A||15% DV|
As you can see, Brussels sprouts are very low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The high fiber content helps support digestive health. The vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese contents are particularly remarkable.
Health benefits of Brussels sprouts
Eating Brussels sprouts regularly has been associated with many potential health benefits. Here is an overview of some of the top health benefits of Brussels sprouts:
1. Rich in antioxidants
Brussels sprouts contain high levels antioxidants like vitamin C, kaempferol, glucobrassicin and more. Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and may lower risk of chronic diseases.
2. May protect against cancer
Compounds found in Brussels sprouts like sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol are linked to possible anti-cancer effects. The antioxidants and fiber may also reduce cancer risk.
3. Supports heart health
The antioxidants, fiber, potassium and vitamin K in Brussels sprouts support cardiovascular health. They may reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and decrease cholesterol.
4. Boosts immunity
The high vitamin C content (around 85% DV) provides a major immunity boost. Vitamin C enhances white blood cell function and acts as a powerful antioxidant.
5. Improves digestion
The fiber found in Brussels sprouts (3.8g per 100g) promotes regularity, prevents constipation and supports a healthy gut. The antioxidants may also reduce inflammation in the digestive tract.
6. Maintains bone health
Brussels sprouts provide large amounts vitamin K (137% DV) which is important for bone metabolism and protecting bone health as you age.
7. Contains cholesterol-lowering benefits
Compounds found in Brussels sprouts may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels. This, along with their fiber and antioxidant content, makes them supportive of heart health.
Are Brussels sprouts good for weight loss?
Brussels sprouts may be beneficial for weight loss for a few reasons:
- Low in calories – only 43 calories per 100g
- High in fiber and bulk which promotes satiety
- Nutrient-dense, so you get lots of nutrition without lots of calories
- May help regulate blood sugar levels and appetite hormones
- Antioxidants may support metabolism
By eating foods that are low in calorie density and high in nutrients like Brussels sprouts as part of balanced diet, it can be easier to reach a calorie deficit to promote weight loss without feeling hungry or deprived.
How to cook Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts can be prepared in many tasty ways. Some common cooking methods include:
- Roasting – Toss sprouts in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400°F until browned and tender.
- Sauteeing – Cook sprouts on stove top with olive oil or butter until tender.
- Steaming – Steam over boiling water for 5-10 minutes until bright green.
- Braising – Simmer sprouts in broth until tender.
- Grilling – Toss in oil then grill sprouts, turning until charred and tender.
Cooking Brussels sprouts until they reach the desired tenderness is key. They can become bitter if overcooked. Pair them with seasonings like garlic, herbs, lemon, or nuts and seeds.
Tips for cooking delicious Brussels sprouts
- Cut sprouts in half to reduce cooking time.
- Opt for smaller sprouts as they will be more tender with a sweeter flavor.
- Toss sprouts in a little olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting or sauteeing.
- Add lemon juice, garlic or herbs to brighten up the flavor.
- Toast nuts or seeds like almonds, walnuts or pumpkin seeds then sprinkle over sprouts.
- Brussels sprout leaves that fall off can be crisped up into “Brussels sprout chips.”
- Avoid overcooking sprouts which can make them soft and bitter tasting.
Common ways to enjoy Brussels sprouts
Here are some delicious ways Brussels sprouts are often prepared and served:
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
- Sauteed Brussels sprouts with garlic
- Shredded raw Brussels sprouts salad
- Brussels sprouts slaw
- Mashed Brussels sprouts
- Brussels sprouts gratin
- Brussels sprout fritters or pancakes
- Pasta with Brussels sprouts
- Brussels sprouts tart or quiche
- Brussels sprout strata
- Brussels sprouts and sausage skillet
- Brussels sprouts casserole
Brussels sprouts pair well with all different types of flavors and ingredients like garlic, olive oil, herbs, lemon, Parmesan cheese, bacon, nuts, seeds, mustard, balsamic vinegar and much more.
Brussels Sprouts Fun Facts
Here are some interesting Brussels sprouts facts:
- Brussels sprouts grow on a stalk up to 3 feet tall. The sprouts grow tightly packed all around the stalk.
- Each stalk produces 20 to 40 sprouts usually about 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
- They are a cultivar of the same plant species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale.
- Native to the Mediterranean region with the first known written mention in 1587 in Belgium.
- Ideal growing conditions are cool weather and light frosts which improve flavor.
- Brussels sprouts contain 3-4 times the vitamin C of oranges.
- Thomas Jefferson is credited for introducing Brussels sprouts into the U.S. in the late 1700s after discovering them while visiting Brussels.
- While disliked by many children, Brussels sprouts are ranked as one of the top 20 most consumed vegetables in the U.S.
- The largest producer of Brussels sprouts in the U.S. is California, followed by New York.
- Brussels sprout juice is being studied as a potential cancer treatment and preventative.
In conclusion, Brussels sprouts are absolutely a real edible vegetable that has been enjoyed for many centuries. They grow as mini cabbages along a tall stalk and have a mildly sweet, nutty flavor. Brussels sprouts are an incredibly healthy vegetable, packing in nutrients like vitamins C and K, fiber, folate, manganese, and more. Eating Brussels sprouts regularly may offer benefits like cancer prevention, improved immunity, heart health, and digestion. While not always the most popular vegetable among kids, their flavor and nutritional value makes Brussels sprouts worth including in a balanced diet.