Brussels sprouts are a cultivar of cabbage grown for their edible buds. There are more than 110 different varieties. Buds typically are between 1 and 2 inches in length, although at least one giant weighed in at over 18 pounds. They are native to the Mediterranean, appeared in northern Europe during the fifth century, and were cultivated near Brussels in the 13th century. Production in the United States began in the 18th century, when French settlers brought them to Louisiana. By the 1920s, they were grown in California’s central coast.
Sprouts are high in vitamins A, C, and K, and contain moderate amounts of B vitamins like folic acid, a known aid to fertility. They also contain dietary fiber and, like broccoli, they contain sulforaphane, which is thought to protect against some cancers. Despite their obvious health benefits, some people have a serious dislike of Brussels sprouts, often due to the strong sulphurous smell they emit when overcooked.
Prepare them by cutting the buds from the stalks, removing any surplus stem close to the heads and peeling and discarding any loose or damaged surface leaves. If small, they can be cooked whole, although some recipes will advise you to cut a cross, about 3/8 inch deep, in the center of the stem to encourage the penetration of heat and even cooking. Larger Brussels sprouts can be halved, or quartered, lengthwise. Boiling them leeches nutrients from sprouts, but steaming or stir frying do not result in significant loss. The freshest sprouts are bright green with a white base – if slightly yellow or brown they’re getting old. And the heads should be hard and firm to the squeeze – if the heads are loose and soft, the sprouts will be mushy when cooked.
Here are two Brussels sprouts facts that are little known for perfectly good reasons: Although Brits eat more Brussels sprouts than other Europeans (they’re a Christmas favorite), Linus Urbanec holds the current Guinness world record for the most Brussels sprouts eaten in 1 minute. He downed 31 on November 26, 2008 in Rottne, Sweden. The sprouts were spiked with a cocktail stick, eaten and swallowed one at a time. And, in 2016, British adventurer Stuart Kettell rolled a Brussels sprout to the top of Mt. Snowdon using only his nose to raise money for a cancer charity. It took him four days.