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Brussels Sprouts: The Underestimated Winter Vegetable

Brussels sprouts are a winter vegetable rich in nutrients and vitamins that should be enjoyed much more often during the cold season. Thanks to their high content of vital substances, the delicate florets protect us from colds and flu-like infections, are a good source of vegetable protein, and protect us from carcinogenic substances. Brussels sprouts also contain phytochemicals that can help with arthritis, asthma, and even autism. But why doesn’t everyone like Brussels sprouts? And what should be considered when preparing, purchasing, and storing as well as when growing in your own garden?

Brussels sprouts – healthy winter vegetable

Like all other types of cabbage, Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera) come from wild cabbage and are therefore part of the large cruciferous family. But while z. For example, broccoli or white cabbage consists of a single head, a Brussels sprouts plant has up to 40 walnut-sized buds (florets) that grow like sprouts from the leaf axils of the approximately 70 cm high trunk. For this reason, mini cabbages are also known as sprouts or sprout cabbage.

Furthermore, Brussels sprouts are also called Brussels cabbage, which indicates their origin. The first evidence of cultivation leads us back to 1587 in present-day Belgium. At the beginning of the 19th century, Brussels sprouts finally made their way to France and from there to England and North America. Today, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain are considered to be the main growing areas for Brussels sprouts.

The cabbage sprouts consist of many small, stacked leaflets that are green on the outside and yellowish-white on the inside. There are also varieties of Brussels sprouts (e.g. rubies) that are characterized by a bright violet color and a sweet note.

Brussels sprouts: best after the first frost

Brussels sprouts are a typical winter vegetable that is in high season from November to January but can be bought in many places as early as late summer and well into spring. The florets only taste particularly good after they have had the first frost, as they then taste less bitter and more delicate. When most other vegetable plants have long since gone into “hibernation”, the delicate cabbage heads defy wind and weather and spoil us humans with a rich nutrient cocktail, so that we too can survive the cold season better.

Brussels sprouts protect against carcinogenic substances

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna, DIfE, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the University of Belgrade conducted a study with 8 participants. The subjects ate 300 grams of cooked Brussels sprouts daily for 6 days. It was shown that the consumption of Brussels sprouts protects the white blood cells from cell damage, which e.g. B. caused by amines. These are carcinogenic substances that are produced when, for example, meat or other high-protein foods are fried or grilled.

Brussels sprouts: Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

A whole series of studies have also shown that the active ingredients contained in cabbage vegetables and thus also in Brussels sprouts can prevent and heal many chronic diseases. This also includes an antioxidant called sulforaphane, which can prevent tumors and even destroy cancer cells, which we have already reported here and here for you.

In addition, sulforaphane has a massive anti-inflammatory effect, so it can also be used in asthma and chronic inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis. Last but not least, there is even a clinical study that showed that sulforaphane from cabbage can alleviate autism symptoms.

Brussels sprouts regulate hormonal balance

In addition, eating Brussels sprouts provides diindolylmethane (DIM), a compound formed in the body during the digestion of cruciferous and other cruciferous plants.

First, DIM is a powerful antioxidant that eliminates free radicals and reduces cellular oxidative stress. In addition, DIM inhibits two proteins involved in the development of tumors and metastases. At the same time, the substance strengthens the immune system, so that DIM counteracts cancer on several fronts at the same time.

Because DIM can also regulate estrogen levels, it alleviates many health conditions that can be associated with estrogen dominance (excessive levels of estrogen relative to levels of progesterone or testosterone), such as B. the premenstrual syndrome ( PMS ), hormone-dependent breast cancer, menopausal symptoms and in men also the pathological change in the prostate.

Brussels sprouts activate the immune system

Both sulforaphane and DIM are only formed during the digestion and metabolism of Brussels sprouts in the human body. The starting substances are the so-called glucosinolates (mustard oil glycosides). Incidentally, of all types of cabbage, Brussels sprouts contain the largest amount of glucosinolates, which also give it its somewhat bitter taste. In addition, glucosinolates seem to have a very beneficial effect on the intestines and the immune system – as German scientists found out in 2011.

The study by the Freiburg researchers led by Professor Andreas Diefenbach showed that glucosinolates activate the human immune system by improving the intestinal environment and stimulating the formation of new lymph follicles there. In the lymphatic follicles of the intestine (Peyer’s patches), the white blood cells (body police) are trained and trained. Thus, the better the gut health, the stronger the immune system.

Brussels sprouts: Can they harm the thyroid?

There are repeated warnings about cabbage in connection with the thyroid gland because cruciferous plants are said to have a goitrogenic effect, which means that they are said to have thyroid-inhibiting and goiter-forming effects.

However, this has long since been refuted in a study. Study participants ate 150 grams of Brussels sprouts daily for four weeks without any effects on thyroid health. It only becomes a problem if you eat only Brussels sprouts and eat them by kilo every day.

So, even though Brussels sprouts are such a healthy vegetable and don’t have any disadvantages, not everyone is on good terms with them.

Why are Brussels sprouts often avoided?

Not everyone likes Brussels sprouts, and children in particular often consistently reject them. This lack of popularity is also reflected in the fact that in Germany only about 400 grams of Brussels sprouts are consumed per capita and year. The reason for this is that Brussels sprouts contain bitter substances, to which children react particularly intensively. For this reason, it is strongly discouraged to force consumption, otherwise, the reluctance can last a lifetime. Most people don’t discover their love for cabbages until they are adults.

In the meantime, various studies have shown that the aversion to the z. B. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or spinach containing bitter substances (e.g. phenylthiocarbamide) can be genetically determined. This explains why some people do not like some bitter substances or the corresponding foods at all, while others hardly or do not at all notice the bitter substances. All those who are not genetically predisposed can of course draw on plenty when it comes to Brussels sprouts and conjure up a wide variety of dishes on the table.

Brussels sprouts in the kitchen – the preparation

Brussels sprouts are considered a typical side dish and, as a supporting actor, are usually doomed to spice up meat dishes (e.g. game). However, it should be borne in mind that tasty florets can also play the leading role. Sprouted cabbage cuts an excellent figure whether as a key ingredient in casseroles, stews, and soups or combined with porcini mushrooms, chanterelles, potatoes, or chestnuts.

Prepare Brussels sprouts

Regardless of the type of preparation, the following must be observed during preparation:

  • First, trim the stalks.
  • Remove the outer small leaves.
  • Wash the florets thoroughly.
  • If you want to ensure an even cooking process, you can use a kitchen knife to cut the stalk in an X-shape.

Brussels sprouts as raw food

Many sources tell us that Brussels sprouts shouldn’t or shouldn’t be eaten raw, as they’re heavy on the stomach and don’t taste good at all. In reality, Brussels sprouts, like other cabbage vegetables, are very well suited to being eaten raw – e.g. B. in salads – to be enjoyed. You can cut the florets into fine slices or grate them and serve with the dressing recommended above – under vitamin C. Raw food – be it cabbage or something else – is usually heavy on the stomach because it is usually simply not chewed intensively enough and instead hastily devoured. So the problem is not with the cabbage, but with those who are unable to enjoy it.

In addition, the digestibility of Brussels sprouts can be increased by adding certain spices or herbs – e.g. B. pepper, caraway, coriander, or juniper berries – can be increased. Of course, nothing stands in the way of steaming or blanching:

Blanch Brussels sprouts

When blanching, it is always necessary for the water to boil bubblingly, so that it only cools briefly when the florets are immersed and then quickly resumes boiling. So be careful not to blanch large portions. If the pot holds 5 liters, no more than 500 grams of Brussels sprouts should be blanched in it at once.

The florets stay in boiling water for 3 minutes and then immediately cool down in ice water for the same amount of time. However, the bowl must not be too small so that the florets can cool evenly.

Cook Brussels sprouts

Put the Brussels sprouts in a saucepan with some water that doesn’t need to cover the Brussels sprouts. Add about half a teaspoon of sea or rock salt and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, you should reduce the heat and cover the pot with a lid. The ideal cooking time is between 5 and 7 minutes and results in Brussels sprouts that are firm to the bite.

You should not boil or steam the Brussels sprouts for longer, as they then lose both their taste and color as well as their vital substances. The cooking test can be carried out with a sharp knife. If the Brussels sprouts are cooked and there is still water in the pot, this should not be thrown away, but used for the sauce, as it contains a number of vital substances.

Brussels sprouts in the soup

Brussels sprouts go particularly well in soups. Especially on cold winter days, this Brussels sprouts soup is an ideal meal to warm up and strengthen the immune system thanks to the numerous valuable ingredients.

Ingredients (for 4-6 people):

  • 400 grams of Brussels sprouts
  • 2 waxy potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons fat (e.g. butter or olive oil)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 L vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp chervil
  • 1 tbsp parsley

Preparation:

  1. Finely chop the onion and garlic separately, halve the florets lengthways and cut the potatoes into small cubes.
  2. Briefly sauté the onion in the fat in a saucepan, add the florets and let them get a little color.
  3. Now you can add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric, stir well and then add the vegetable broth
  4. Wait for the soup to boil, then simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and add the herbs.

Tip: You can also puree the Brussels sprouts soup before serving.

Roast Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are ideal for cooking in a pan. Halve the cabbages lengthways, heat a little oil (e.g. olive oil) in a pan, and place the mini cabbages cut-side down. Fry the halves until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. You can then deglaze the florets with a little white wine or water. The liquid should just cover the bottom of the pan. The Brussels sprouts are cooked until the water has evaporated. Finally, you can e.g. B. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with lemon juice.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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