Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea) are members of the Brassicaceae or cabbage family, which includes cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and collards. Originally recorded in 15th century Europe, the plant was primarily cultivated in Belgium’s capital city of Brussels. The walnut-sized sprouts were popularized in Europe after World War I and remain a common dish in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Traditionally, Brussels sprouts have been less popular in the United States, though this is changing as health conscious Baby Boomers and vegetable-loving millennials drive demand.
Brussels sprouts thrive in cool, humid conditions. Unlike most plants, they attain their best flavor after a minor frost. The tops of stalks are sometimes eaten as greens, but the small ‘cabbage’ heads are the prize. Primary commercial growing is limited to California and New York in the United States, with most imports coming from Mexico and a much smaller amount from Guatemala.
When handled and cooked properly, Brussels sprouts should have a sweet, mild flavor. The bitterness many people associate with the vegetable can come from damage or improper storage.
References: Cornell University, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Illinois Extension, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
There is little variation in cuts of the already small and compact Brussels sprout. Various plant types may be separated into hybrids, heirloom, early-maturing, late-season, open-pollinated, and even ornamental. All varieties require about 100 days to mature with a 10- to 20-day variation among them.
“Kalettes” are a colorful Brussels sprouts and kale hybrid, offering a fusion of the two vegeables’ flavor and texture.
References: Cornell University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Common pests of concern for Brussels sprouts are cabbage aphids and worms, cabbage root maggots, flea beetles, cutworms, loopers, slugs, harlequin bugs, diamond back moths, thrips, web worms, and nematodes.
Diseases of concern include downy mildew, clubroot, and internal browning.
Injuries from rough postharvest handling can bruise the sprouts and encourage decay.
References: UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, Cornell University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.