Brussel Sprouts are Good

Have you noticed that Brussel sprouts are enjoying a renaissance? Once scorned they are now showing up at top-notch restaurants.

NPR: Foods go in and out of style. Few of them, though, have gone through as dramatic a renaissance in their reputation as Brussels sprouts.

…Shannan Troncoso remembers hearing, about a decade ago, that celebrity chef David Chang was doing amazing things with Brussels sprouts and bacon at his restaurant Momofuku, in New York. Then she encountered some crispy fried Brussels sprouts at a restaurant in San Francisco. “It was so good, I was like, I can figure this out! And I can introduce this back into my area,” she says.

When she launched her own restaurant — Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen, a neighborhood establishment in Northeast Washington, D.C. — they were on the menu from very beginning.

“We peel the leaves off, each tiny little leaf. That’s like a full-time job for somebody,” she says. The actual cooking takes no time at all. Troncoso drops a basket of leaves into the fryer. Within seconds, they’re turning brown. She pulls them out, lets them drain for a bit, then tosses them with a bit of lemon juice and salt.

Troncoso says that her customers had to be talked into ordering them at first. “People are kind of like, ‘ugh, Brussels sprouts,’ ” she says. But now it’s one of her most popular dishes.

There’s a reason for the renaissance. The Brussel sprouts you remember as a kid did taste bitter and, yes, you can blame that on capitalism and big business. A new variety of Brussel sprouts was developed in the 1960s that was great for mechanized production but it had the side-effect of being bitter. Prices fell but Brussel sprouts got a bad reputation. What the anti-big business people overlook, however, is that this wasn’t the end of the story. Capitalism works to lower prices and increase quality.

IFLScience: By the 1990s, the Big Sprout industrial complex had had enough and started to look into ways to Make Brussels Great Again. A study published in 1999 by scientists from the seed and chemical company Novartis managed to pinpoint the specific compounds that gave Brussel sprouts their undesired bitterness: two glucosinolates called sinigrin and progoitrin.

This helped to prompt a number of seed companies to sift through gene banks to look for old varieties of vegetables that happened to have low levels of the bitter chemicals, according to NPR. These less bitter varieties were then cross-pollinated with modern high-yielding ones, aiming to get the best of both worlds: a better-tasting product that could be cultivated on an industrial scale. After years of patience, they eventually produced a crop that was both tasty and economically viable.

And just like that, the former glory of Brussels sprouts was restored, shifting this vegetable from a culinary pariah to a prized side dish.

So this Thanksgiving, give thanks to science, capitalism and delicious Brussel sprouts!

Addendum: Here’s a good, simple recipe for roasted Brussel sprouts. Enjoy!

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