(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 30, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Not everyone is as much in love with this vegetable as I am. A survey done in 2002 proclaimed it the most hated vegetable!
Many people will simply avoid it because of the smell it releases when being cooked. However: you can do yourself and your guests a favor by cooking them for a shorter period: this not only prevents the sulphuric fumes, but leaves the sprouts tasting sweeter, more nutty and helps them retain more of their nutritional value.
Since it is widely grown commercially they are available year-round, but they develop their best flavor when ‘the frost has been on them’.
The sprouts’ nutritional value is undisputed: it is part of the group of cruciferous vegetables that has been proven to have cancer-fighting properties and they are a great source of vitamin A and C, folic acid and fiber.
Brussels sprouts are not recommended for canning because the processing intensifies the strong flavors and discolors the vegetable.
Brussels sprouts are much better frozen or pickled. Yes, pickled! With dill, hot peppers, turmeric and cilantro added they make an excellent side dish to grilled meat, and for a bit of variety try plopping one of these green gems into your Bloody Mary or Martini!!
Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera
The origin of Brussels sprouts is thought to be the result of a mutation from the savoy cabbage.
Since the 1920’s they have been commercially grown in the US, starting in Lousiana and then becoming a widespread crop in the Coastal area of northern California – the so-called fog belt. Eighty percent of the crop is sold as frozen produce. Canada, The Netherlands and England are the other main global growers of this vegetable although England does not export significantly. Interestingly, the preferred size of the sprout varies between Europe and the US, with Americans preferring a larger size (appr. one inch and up)
It frequently surprises people to see that the sprouts, which resemble miniature heads of cabbage, grow like buds in the leaf axils on the stem of a plant that grows from two to three feet tall. Generally there are twenty to forty sprouts per stalk maturing upwards from the bottom. They may also be harvested that way, five to fifteen at a time, so that a plant will continue to produce a crop for an extended period for a total harvest of about two and a half pound per stalk.
Unless you live in a cool enough climate there Is no point trying to grow this plant yourself. In all but the most northern states, the summers are usually too warm for satisfactory production from spring plantings. In warm weather, sprouts become loose, forming more open heads, while cool weather firms the sprouts, which also leads to a milder flavor. They improve in quality and grow best during cool or even lightly frosty weather with harvesting time continuing through January.
Brussels sprouts are a demanding crop and require a long growing period (up to 180 days) although some of the newer hybrids have greatly reduced this requirement.