Why Have Brussels Sprouts Become So Popular?

Years ago, Brussels sprouts were the vegetable that kids loved to hate. They’re remembered by many as a bitter-tasting Christmastime side dish with an unpleasant aroma. Today, however, these little green nuggets are found on many trendy restaurant menus. Demand has increased so quickly that growers are struggling to keep up.

Plant breeders have removed some of the glucosinolates from Brussels sprouts, giving them a sweeter taste that appeals to more people.
Plant breeders have removed some of the glucosinolates from Brussels sprouts, giving them a sweeter taste that appeals to more people.

Have our taste buds really changed that much? The bitter taste associated with Brussels sprouts comes from chemicals called glucosinolates, which make cruciferous vegetables (including cauliflower and broccoli) less appealing to animals and insects.

In the past few decades, however, scientists have lowered the levels of these offensive chemicals through selective plant breeding. The newer Brussels sprouts varieties also produce higher yields and have excellent disease resistance.

In search of better Brussels sprouts:

  • Not everyone has the genes for tasting the bitterness produced by glucosinolates. It depends on your DNA, much like the way cilantro tastes like soap to some people.

  • The new and improved Brussels sprouts are not GMOs, though. Plant scientists painstakingly searched older varieties of Brussels sprouts for varieties with lower concentrations of glucosinolates, and cross-bred them with high-yield varieties.

  • In the human body, glucosinolate breaks down into a chemical called isothiocyanate, known to help prevent the growth of cancers. Scientists are developing varieties that preserve these healthy qualities.


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