Christmas comes once a year, and so do Brussels sprouts. Love them or hate them, what do you really know about them? FIONA BECKETT serves up 12 facts to impress the family over your festive lunch
Sprouts did originally come from Brussels
- They were actually grown around the city in the Middle Ages (though the gastronomic encyclopedia Larousse claims they were imported from Italy by the Roman legions). Both the French (chou de Bruxelles) and Italian (cavolini di Bruxelles) names make the Belgian connection. And a garnish of sprouts is referred to as a Bruxelloise – or termed à la Brabançonne, if also accompanied by chicory, hops and served with a mornay sauce.The correct plural is Brussels sprouts although there is some disagreement on the subject, some favouring Brussel sprouts. Sounds the same anyway.
Sprouts are getting sweeter
- And smaller, in line with consumer demand. A bit peverse, given the bitter, cabbagey taste is what makes them so exceptionally healthy (see below).
The perfect UK soil for sprouts is Cotswold Brash
- According to Martin Haines of WR Haines, which grows sprouts for Marks & Spencer, when Birds Eye conducted a nationwide survey of the best terroir for sprout cultivation it landed on the area around Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. The soil in its fields is known as Cotswold Brash, a freedraining soil with a high mineral content which is believed to enhance the sprouts’ flavour. Another prime area is Lincolnshire, but then practically everything grows well in Lincolnshire.
It’s a myth that sprouts taste better after a frost
- It’s supposed to enhance their sweetness, but today’s sprouts, as already noted, are sweeter anyway. It’s true that sprouts don’t like the heat which is why they’re well suited to a northern European climate and became the traditional accompaniment to a Christmas dinner.
A third of all sprouts sold in the UK are sold at Sainsbury’s
- 65 million are bought in the week before Christmas, and weigh the equivalent of 144 elephants. Waitrose sprouts weigh less – the equivalent of 140 adult male African elephants, the PR departmentinformed us. (Sainsbury’s doesn’t specify the age, sex or species of its elephants)
Sprouts are Britain’s second most-hated vegetable
- According to a recent survey by Heinz. Which is progress – sprouts used to be the most-hated veg, an accolade that now goes to aubergines. Nevertheless, there are 668,000 listings on Google for the search phrase ‘hate sprouts’.
Sprouts have more vitamin C than oranges
- One 80g serving of cooked sprouts provides you with 80% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. They also contain more glucosinolates (the sulphur-containing compounds believed to contribute to the prevention of certain cancers) than other brassicas, and sinigrin, a chemical which is thought to help prevent cancer of the colon. Eat your sprouts raw or lightly cooked for maximum benefit.
You don’t need to cut a cross in the base
- ‘A waste of time’, as British cookery writer Jane Grigson once magisterially remarked, which ‘leads to a loss of shape and flavour’. It was done to help thelarger ones cook through when sprouts were unevenly sized but is unnecessary now they are smaller and more uniform.
You can stir fry sprouts
- In fact it’s a positive advantage, retaining the health benefits and avoiding the sulphurous smell that so puts off sproutophobes. Good companions in the wok are garlic, ginger, soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil (or, more conventionally, bacon and onions). If you boil – or preferably steam – your sprouts cook them for eight minutes at most, but preferably five to six minutes.
And make a tasty sprout cake served with sprout ice-cream
- Self-styled ‘sprout chef’ Felice Tocchini, chef patron of the Fusion Brasserie in Hawbridge, devised these delicacies, along with sprout fritters and sprout canapés. Haven’t tried it, I admit, but I remain to be convinced.
You can eat the leaves at the top
- Brussel tops, the leaves that grow at the top of the stalk, have become very fashionable in Modern British menus, and are bound to continue to be so, given the frugal zeitgeist. Simply steam them and serve with melted butter.
Written by Fiona Beckett