I detested Brussels sprouts when I was a kid. We grew them in our garden and I have vivid memories of cutting a stalk down and brushing off the snow before bringing it into the house to my mother.
As far as I can remember, my mom always boiled them. My mom’s a great cook, but I think the horrid flavor of boiled Brussels is why so many people have a mental block against this nutrient-dense crucifer.
Brussels sprouts, like all crucifers, are high in glucosinolates. When these vegetables are cooked, chopped or chewed, an enzyme called myrosinase that is also present in these plants breaks the glucosinolates apart (through hydrolysis) into a variety of biologically active compounds including a class of compounds, and a few of these are responsible for the bitter taste of boiled Brussels. Two such compounds are sinigrin and gluconapin, for which humans have very sensitive palates and find extremely bitter. Very fresh Brussels tend to have less sinigrin and gluconapin, so buying in season and locally can do wonders for Brussels sprout enjoyment.
Brussels are also high in a type of isothiocyanate called sulforaphane (also a products of myrosinase’s activity on glucosinolates). Isothiocyanates are known for their anti-cancer properties (through enhancing tumor suppression and eliminating carcinogens from the body). Some types of isothiocyanates can up-regulate genes involved in protecting against DNA damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress, as well as increase the activity of phase II enzymes (such as quinone reductase and glutamate cysteine ligase) that help remove toxic substances and carcinogens from the body. Sulforaphane is dramatically reduced when Brussels are boiled compared to other cooking techniques, or overcooked in general. In this case, it’s the loss of a more palatable compound that unmasks bitter flavours.
And, you’re probably thinking to yourself “so, boiling Brussels makes them more bitter and loses anti-oxidant cancer-fighting compounds”. Yep, you just hit the nail on the head! In fact, boiling Brussels can result in an up to 90% loss of sulforaphane, and that’s a tear-worthy event!
As an adult, I’ve rediscovered Brussels sprouts. And the biggest trick? Well, I think they’re best roasted, but it’s really a matter of any cooking technique other than boiling! Roasting has the added benefit of being very easy, very forgiving (you’ve got a good 15-minute window in which these will taste fantastic, so overcooking is not very likely!).
So, this may seem like a very simple recipe, but it’s one of those fundamental, how to like a veggie that no one likes, staples. And definitely worth trying!
- Preheat oven to 375F
- Trim any brown parts off the Brussels sprouts. Slice in half if medium in size, slice into quarters if large in size, leave whole if they’re small. Any leaves that fall off can get added to the pan.
- Toss Brussels sprouts with melted lard (or other fat) and salt. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, spreading out to form a uniform layer.
- Bake, stirring once about halfway through the cooking, for 30-35 minutes, until browned.