Brussels sprouts are compact rounded leaves tightly bound into individual spherical-shaped heads ranging in diameter of one to two inches when mature. Their leaves range from sea green to fern green, some varieties featuring blushed violet red tips. They offer the flavors of the earth and the bitter sweetness of cabbage. The younger the Brussels sprouts carry a sweeter more palatable flavor.
Brussels sprouts are available year-round.
Brussels sprouts, botanical name Brassica oleracea, belong to the Brassicaceae family. The are the axillary buds of the plant which grow progressively from an upward sprouting stem. The Brassicaceae is an economically important food plant family known as the mustard plants, crucifers and cabbages. Modern cultivars of Brussels sprouts have been developed to remove the bitterness that they have been historically associated with. Five common types of Brussels sprouts include Rampart, Content, Oliver, Rowena and Valiant. Each variety has its own time preference of cultivation. The average consumer, however, would not know the difference among any of these varieties in taste or appearance. Bitterness can also be tempered with seasonally specific planting. Winter induces the plant's food reserves to convert into sugar, providing sweeter more palatable sprouts.
Classic cooking methods for Brussels sprouts include roasting, braising or pan frying them in butter with savory accoutrements such as garlic, shallots, thyme, rosemary and sage. Brussels sprouts take on the accompanying flavors which gives them more depth and appeal while also bringing sweetness to the Brussels sprouts. Slow roasting the sprouts in oil or butter is a great way to remove the sprout's natural bitterness. The smaller the sprout, the more sweet and the less bitter tendencies it will have. Brussels sprouts can be added to casseroles, gratins, soups and they are a great addition to Winter roasted vegetable medleys. They can also be tossed into a warm winter greens salad. Other choice culinary companions include bacon, pork belly, cheese, cream, duck fat, eggs, ham, grapefruit, olive oil,cider vinegar, lemon, hollandaise, maple, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, pepper, pistachios and pancetta.
Brussels sprouts are thought to be native to Belgium, specifically a region near its capital, Brussels, after which they are named. They remained a local crop in this area until their use spread across Europe during World War I. Brussels sprouts are now cultivated throughout Europe and have been naturalized in the United States. They are a cold hardy food plant that thrive in winter months in temperate climates with adequate to supple supplies of rainfall and irrigation.