Little cabbages, in all their glory
With the holidays around the corner, there is one vegetable that always seems to rear its ugly little green head. The Brussels sprout. They seem to be making some kind of culinary comeback, and it’s no surprise that every time I open a food magazine or flip on the cooking channel, someone is proclaiming the recipe that will change the minds of even the most intense Brussels sprout haters. It always includes bacon. And I doubt it will ever work.
I don’t remember eating them much as a child, or if I did I didn’t think much of it. My dad called them “little cabbages” and I forever thought they really were. They’re not. They are cabbage cousins, but grown on funky stalks we sometimes walk past in the grocery store and stare at. Mostly they come already nipped off, which is how I always remember seeing them as a kid. I’d walk into the kitchen, make some joke about the odor of flatulence, and then we’d sit down to eat a very healthy vegetable side dish with our dinner.
Because Brussels sprouts, they really are full of vitamins and nutrients, and not just compressed stinkers like so many think. (Food scientists swear that the nose curling smell comes from overcooking the little guys.) Teeming with vitamins C and K, they also contain folate, magnesium, and are an excellent source of fiber. Some would even go as far as to call them a super food.
So why aren’t more people eating them?
Because they stink and taste “horrible and disgusting and they are the worst thing in the entire world,” according to some of my children. According to some scientists, it’s really not their fault.
In 2011, researchers from Cornwell College discovered that there is a reason that people either love or hate those little cruciferous veggies. Brussels sprouts contain a chemical that tastes really bitter to people with a certain gene. Fortunately, genes often mutate over time and generations and the scientists discovered that the people who have the mutated version of the gene are immune to the bitter taste. Why would genes mutate? Maybe it’s so our bodies would be more capable of eating those round little balls of nutrients without gagging. It is decided at birth—no amount of sprinkling of cheese or bacon crumbles can change our genetic structure.
They report that about 50% of the human population has the mutated version of the gene, which would mean that about half of the people sitting down to dinner will be excited to see a bowl of Brussels sprouts on the table. The other 50% will be found holding their noses and blabbering on and on, asking how on Earth we could eat such foul and horrid orbs.
We mutants, though, we love our little cabbages. More for us.
Originally written/published 11/16/14