I hate brussels sprouts! Why do people eat them?
When I wrote my “Twelve Dreads of Christmas” newsletter I got a lot of feedback about one terrible aspect of Christmas that I’d missed – “I hate brussels sprouts.”
Brussels sprouts are a Marmite vegetable – people either think that eating them once a year is too often, or wonder why we don’t eat them more of the time. I’m firmly in the “eat them more often” camp, and I’m going to spend the next 250 words trying to get non-believers to join me.
The objections to sprouts normally take the same form –
- “They’re soggy”
- “They’re bitter”
- “They’re soggy and bitter”
- “They’re socially unfortunate”
“They’re soggy” – That’s because you’re cooking them wrong – or for too long at any rate. Whilst the “put a cross in the bottom”/ ”don’t put a cross in the bottom” debate isn’t going to get settled here, at least we can establish how long to cook them for. If you insist on boiling them it’s 5 minutes or until tender, and if you’re steaming them it’s 5 – 10 minutes.
“They’re bitter” – That’s because you’re overcooking them. Brussels sprouts contain sulphur to deter animals from eating their leaves, and sulforaphrane, which gives overcooked sprouts their distinctive bitterness and smell.
“They’re soggy and bitter” – I really thought we’d covered this. Leave steaming or boiling them, and try roasting or stir frying them instead Roasting them for 30 -45 minutes at 200C or thinly slicing and frying them with lardons or cashew nuts. Instead of the sogginess and bitterness you’ll get a sweet, nutty flavour.
“They’re socially unfortunate” – I suppose you mean the whole farting thing they can have going on. Brussels sprouts do contain complex sugars which we don’t have the gut enzymes to break down. They can be broken down in the bowel but this produces hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide. The sulphur compounds add hydrogen sulphide, with its smell of rotten eggs, and putrid smelling methanethiol to the mix.
The upside to this is that the same sulphur compounds may protect against some cancers and brain disease, and look to have antioxidant properties. Brussels sprouts also contain high levels of folic acid, and vitamins A and C. So at least they’re doing you a favour, even if your stomach isn’t doing one for everybody else.