By Neil Harms
One of the many vegetables grown on Harms Farms fertile soil is Brussels sprouts. I call them “little cabbages.” Like most produce, Brussels sprouts taste much better fresh, right out of the garden. Refrigerated Brussels sprouts should stay good for a few weeks, though the flavor becomes stronger and less tasty with age. They stay fresher and longer if kept on the stock for as long as possible. Stores sell them this way for both freshness and effect. Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when the tiny heads are firm, green, and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The sprouts are removed by twisting them until they break away from the plant. As the lower sprouts are removed, yellowing leaves can be removed as well. The plant continues to grow upward, producing more leaves and sprouts. Removing the larger sprouts and keeping the smaller ones on allows them to grow and be picked later in the season.
Human genetics, crop breeding, and cooking technique all play a role in our palate’s response to brussels sprouts. Some humans are genetically wired to dislike Brussels sprouts more than others. There is a receptor on the tongue that responds to bitter compounds present in certain veggies, and for some people that receptor is very sensitive. In addition, the human brain has evolved to associate bitterness with poison which would explain why many people are instinctively turned off by that taste. Over the last twenty years, farmers have mellowed the “unpleasant” flavor of Brussels sprouts by breeding a vegetable that contains fewer bitter compounds or glucosinolates. So, Brussels sprouts just taste better than they were when we were kids. The problem is that glucosinolates help protect sprouts against pests. By improving the flavor, farmers are also lowering the plant’s natural defenses. Additionally, the way Brussels sprouts are cooked make a big difference in terms of bitterness. Roasting or frying Brussels sprouts produces a firm, caramelized, nutty flavor rather than bitter. The flavor components that contribute to a bitter flavor are concentrated in the center of the Brussels sprout. If you slice the veggie in half, it helps to release some of those compounds during the cooking process.
Brussels sprouts are an extremely healthy vegetable. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They also have the potential to reduce the risk of cancer, decrease inflammation and improve blood sugar control.
More than 90 percent of Brussels sprouts grown in the United States come from California, and most of them are harvested in San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties where the climate is cool and moist. They are a fall/winter crop usually grow from October through December.
Stay tuned for the next blog which will be all about roses!