Have you ever wondered why today’s Brussels sprouts don’t taste as gross as they might have while you were growing up? It’s not just your palate that’s changed, but the sprouts themselves. Thanks to some genetic tinkering, Dutch scientists have made Brussels sprouts bitter no longer.
Brussels sprouts get a makeover
Brussels sprouts simply don’t taste the same way they did a few decades ago. If you hated them as a kid, there’s at least some chance you might like them now.
According to NPR (cited below): “This all started to change in the 1990s, and it began in the Netherlands, where Brussels sprouts have a simpler name: spruitjes. A Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn, who worked at the seed and chemical company Novartis (the seed part is now called Syngenta), figured out exactly which chemical compounds in spruitjes made them bitter.”
The next step was to consult the seed archives (libraries of seeds for different types of Brussels sprouts). Companies then planted them all and began selecting for the ones with the least bitterness.
Making a better Brussels sprout
Once scientists chose the best candidates for less bitter sprouts, “They cross-pollinated these old varieties with modern, high-yielding ones, trying to combine the best traits of old and new spruitjes. It took many years. But it worked.” Then word spread in the professional culinary scene. It took off mainly in the United States, not in Europe.“
Once word got out about everyone’s least favorite vegetable from childhood tasting a bit different, big-name chefs (like David Chang at Momofuku in New York) got on board and started selling them again. People were delighted to have a new vegetable to enjoy and the “new” Brussels sprouts took off without people knowing the bitterness chemical had actually been bred out of them.
Most of us who like Brussels sprouts now assume we just have more mature palates. But we actually have the Dutch to thank for getting our greens with less suffering. — WTF fun facts