Glossary of Foods: Brussels Sprouts

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Once upon a time, you may have grouped Brussels sprouts into the same category of vegetables as broccoli or spinach: the icky green kind. Yet over the years, you have somehow come around to liking both broccoli and spinach. However, Brussels sprouts remain a taste aversion as you still remember the tasteless, boiled version from your childhood. Well, maybe it's time to rethink the Brussels sprout. Before considering new, much tastier ways to cook Brussels sprouts, learn a bit more about this seriously misunderstood veggie.

Brussels sprouts are buds of a plant in the cabbage family. They themselves look like very small green cabbages. The buds are harvested from a stalk that grows between 2 and 4 feet high. The sprouts themselves average in size from 1 to 1.5 inches each. One stalk can yield 2 to 3 pounds of sprouts. Brussels sprouts are grown and harvested in cooler climates from September to March and considered a winter vegetable. Their origin dates back to the 13th century where they may have been grown in Belgium, hence the name "Brussels," and have since spread to the cooler parts of Europe and the United States.

brussels sprouts on a stalk

Brussels sprouts are a variety from the same species as cabbage. They are a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as broccoli, kale, and collard greens.

Raw Brussels sprouts contain high levels of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as some folic acid, vitamin B6, and fiber. These little green cabbages have received credit for being a cancer-preventive veggie. They contain sulforphane, an antioxidant that helps in the prevention in certain types of cancers. It is very important not to overcook Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetable begin to emit a sulfur smell when cooked for too long, brussels sprouts included. Boiling Brussels sprouts also removes much of their nutritional value.

When shopping for Brussels sprouts, look for small, firm, verdant sprouts. The leaves should be very compact. Farmers markets and grocery stores commonly carry Brussels sprouts in small mesh bags or loose to purchase in bulk. Steaming Brussels sprouts will ensure you get the most nutrients out of the veggie, but you can also roast them for excellent flavor, toss in a stir fry, or add raw leaves of the sprout to a dish.

Maybe after learning how healthy these little green veggies are, you will reconsider trying them! Try them roasted and mixed with another famously healthy veggie like these Smokey Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes. Or spice up your veggie side dish with Quick Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Coconut Ginger Sauce. For a fresh, no-cook way to try brussels sprouts, try this Shredded Brussels Sprout Salad with avocado and dried cranberries. Keep an open mind and you'll soon discover how delicious these misunderstood sprouts are. Cooked in the right way, they are delicious and nutritious!

brussels sprout salad
(Photo: "What's Gaby Cooking")