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The History of Brussels Sprouts

Recipes  |  Nutrition

Brussels Sprouts are a member of the cabbage family, Brassica. Another name you hear is Cruciferous. There are hundreds of varieties in this family including mustard and horseradish.

One interesting characteristic of Brussels Sprouts is the way they grow. Although they resemble the structure of a head of cabbage, the sprouts grow on are produced in the leaf axils, starting at the base of the stem and working upward.

Brussels Sprouts has a reputation sometimes as a very strong flavored vegetable. This is only true if they are over cooked.





In latin this means cross-bearing, which gets it’s name from the 4 petal flower that resembles a cross.

The origin of the cultivar (selectively bred as opposed to wild) Brussels Sprouts is not exact, but the French coined the name in the 18th century. It was common to put a landmark on a food. Whether they actually were developed in Brussels in Belgium is not certain. There are records of Brussels Sprouts around where Brussels is as far back as the 13th century.


Our Ancestors owe their lives to the cabbage family

Brassica (Cabbage Family) vegetables are said to have been cultivated for thousands of years, the plants have a great tolerance to salt and limestone and other harsh soils. No one knows for sure where the first plants started. These wild plants that resemble leafy kale were selected and crossbred to what has become the varieties we know today like cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts, horseradish and Wasabi to name just a few.

Many of the Brassica family of plants grow in winter and were good food and nutrition in colder climates thousands of years ago.

A variety of the cabbage family growing on the cliffs of Dover.

How did nature produce this funny growing style?


The Brussels Sprout plant style was achieved by cross breeding however the phenomena of the little sprouts on stems can sometimes be achieved on a cabbage plant by cutting off the top of the stem before the cabbage head is formed. From
John Davidson's The Penguin Companion to Food



Cooking Brussels Sprouts and Recipes

Choose the right sprouts.
Make sure that the sprouts have a small tight head, good green color and are firm. avoid mushy ones or drab green and yellow.

Cooking Styles
They can be boiled, steamed, stir fried, roasted, and even grilled on a BBQ.
The one thing you have to watch out for is over cooking them because as the cell walls break down a very strong sulphur like flavor is produced because they contain the chemical Sinigrin.

I simply wash them and steam in a pan with a 1/2 inch of water for about 5 minutes. Then you can drain and toss a little salt , pepper and lemon juice with them. Some people will cut an x in the stem with a knife so the heat can penetrate better and cook the tougher stalk end more easily.



Basic Brussels Sprout Preparation


Skewered Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprout Hash

Brussels Sprout Slaw



Nutrition values of Brussels Sprouts

In brief, cabbage plants are very high in vitamin C.

Here from Wikipedia are some other medicinal properties.

Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C. It also contains significant amounts of glutamine, an amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Cabbage can also be included in dieting programs, as it is a low calorie food.

Along with broccoli and other Brassica vegetables, cabbage is a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. The compound is also used as an adjuvant therapy for recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a disease of the head and neck caused by human papillomavirus (usually types 6 and 11) that causes growths in the airway that can lead to death. Boiling reduces anticancer properties.

In European folk medicine, cabbage leaves are used to treat acute inflammation. A paste of raw cabbage may be placed in a cabbage leaf and wrapped around the affected area to reduce discomfort. Some claim it is effective in relieving painfully engorged breasts in breastfeeding women.

Fresh cabbage juice has been shown to promote rapid healing of peptic ulcers.


Alton Brown on Brussels Sprouts


Links and References

How to cross breed your own plants

A fun link on the history of Brussels Sprouts and the cabbage family
From Samurai Knitter

Nutrition Facts

Nutrition facts by Fat Secret




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More Links and Recipes

Here is a food history book I recommend


The Sprout Book: A Celebration of the Humble Brussels Sprout

Good review about the recipes in this book


Ferry-Morse Seeds 1237 Brussels Sprouts - Catskill 1.4 Gram Packet  

Good reviews on these seeds.


Old South brussels sprouts, pickled, mild

Brussels Sprout pickles !  



How to Grow Brassica Vegetables
Kindle Edition  



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Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature 7-Piece Knife Set with Block  





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Last updated May 31, 2012