When I first saw brussels sprouts at a farmer’s market I was flabbergasted. Who knew that these little cabbages grew along a large stick, looking for all the world like a medieval club?
What were these bizarre little veggies anyways? Why do I suddenly love them after hating them as a child? Okay, adding sautéed bacon and garlic may have something to do with it.
What’s in a name?
Why are they called brussels sprouts? Because it sounds better than Paris sprouts or Rome sprouts?
Brussels sprouts were first grown by the Romans. By 1586 the Belgians were growing them like crazy. They were sold in markets in Brussels, which gave them their name. Wouldn’t it be interesting if other vegetables were named like this?
How did they make it to Canada?
From Belgium the sprouts became popular in England and France. Apparently Thomas Jefferson was a fan, because he introduced them to the United States in 1812. I assume that from there they crept into Canada. They are also grown in Europe and Australia.
Today, most of the sprouts grown in Canada don’t come from Belgium, but are hybrids made in Japan or Holland. Sprouts need a cool climate and are allergic to heat, so Canada is a perfect place for them.
Rolling in green
Which province in Canada produces the most Brussels sprouts? If you guessed BC, you’re right! Ontario and Quebec are close seconds. Every year, the sprouts harvest in Canada is worth over $7 million. Not bad for a bitter veggie people love to hate.
Apparently Canadians have a bigger taste for sprouts than Americans. When we don’t make enough locally we’ll import some from California. The advent of frozen food also increased demand for brussels sprouts. In Ontario the main variety grown is Jade E. Now doesn’t that sound exotic and exciting?
Speak softly and carry…brussels sprouts?
Instead of having one head like a lettuce, Brussels sprouts grow multiple heads along the stem. Just when you thought brussels sprouts couldn’t get less horrifying. The main stem is 2-3 feet long and the sprouts are leaf buds that develop along it. Brussels sprouts have mini stems inside, which you’ll see when you cut them in half. And, as I said, it looks like a knobby war club!
The sprouts grow from the bottom of the plant up. They are ready to pull off the stick in fall or early winter.
Full of goodies
What are these green balls good for? Well brussels sprouts have lots of fibre, vitamin A, C and K as well as manganese.
With sprouts, bigger is not better. Small is beautiful and tasty.
Apparently if you draw an X on them with a knife they will cook evenly. Hmm, I might have to try that.
Don’t cook them too long, or they’ll go grey and stinky. If you start smelling sulfur, stop cooking.
Cabbage Patch Kids
There’s a good reason that brussels sprouts look like little cabbages- they’re the same species! In fact, Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts also belong to the species Brassica oleracea. Just like domestic dogs, these differently-shaped vegetables were created by humans through careful breeding of the wild cabbage.
Just like with dogs, different people bred the plant to do different things. Some wanted huge hunting dogs, others wanted tiny lap-dogs. brussels sprouts are the tiny lapdog.
The original wild cabbage was just a weedy little plant in the Mediterranean with nutritious leaves. Now it’s one of the world’s most important food crops. It looked and tasted a lot like kale and collard greens. Brussels sprouts were a late bloomer, and were the last kind of cabbage that ancient gardeners developed.
Brussels sprout sex
Believe it or not, brussels sprouts have flowers! We don’t think about them because we eat the leaves, but their flowers are yellow with four petals.
Just like different dog breeds, brussels sprouts and cabbage can mate with each other and have babies. I’m just not sure what those babies would look like.
Actually, we know what they’d look like. In 2010, the British company Tozer bred a hybrid of kale and Brussels sprouts. It looks like a stem of frilly spouts. They call it a flower sprout.
Cabbage may look like lettuce, but don’t be fooled! Lettuce is in the sunflower family, while cabbage is the mustard family.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and eat some brussels sprouts!