I can’t think of a vegetable more people grew up hating than the lowly brussels sprout. They would usually go straight from the freezer into a pot of boiling water, from which they emerged in a grayish, overcooked clump without any distinct flavor except one. Bitterness. The brussels sprouts of the 1970s and 1980s weren’t typically prepared well, and they didn’t taste good.
Fortunately, many adults today have learned how to properly cook and season vegetables, and there are more options for fresh produce than many people had access to in decades past. But there’s an even more important reason that brussels sprouts aren’t as horrible as they used to be – the actual sprouts themselves are much less bitter, and much, much tastier.
What happened? In the 1990s, a Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn, who was working at the company Novartis (which at the time included a seed division) was able to isolate the chemical compounds that made brussels sprouts taste bitter. Dutch seed companies then cross-bred old varieties of sprouts that had low levels of those chemicals with modern high-yield varieties. After several attempts in test plots, they discovered some crops that weren’t as bitter. Eventually, this resulted in varieties of brussels sprouts that became significantly more popular.
When you start with a less bitter vegetable, it’s much easier to cook it in ways that bring out its pleasing qualities. One technique that works wonders is to halve the sprouts, toss them with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then, pop them into the oven to roast at a high temperature, which makes their leaves brown and crispy. (Cooking them in an air fryer would also work well.) To add a touch of sweetness, toss the roasted sprouts with balsamic vinegar and either honey or maple syrup.
The result is a well-seasoned, flavorful vegetable that, even with the salt, oil, and sugar, is still relatively good for you and will disappear from your dinner table like candy on the day after Halloween. But if you want to make sure that there won’t be any leftovers, there’s one easy way to make your brussels sprouts taste even better – just add bacon.
What I Ate: Roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic and honey