WTF Fun Fact 13134 – Brussels sprouts bitter no longer

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

Source: “From Culinary Dud To Stud: How Dutch Plant Breeders Built Our Brussels Sprouts Boom” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 12816 – Peas Are the Oldest Cultivated Vegetable

No matter how you feel about peas on your plate, it’s hard to deny that they’re one of the most important vegetables in mankind’s history. If we want to make the case that civilization starts when humans settle down to become farmers rather than hunter-gatherers, then peas are a major part of that story. Peas are the oldest vegetable – or one of the oldest – mankind has cultivated.

Stone Age peas

Peas have been found in Stone Age settlements roughly 8000 years old, but it’s likely that in some parts of the world (namely the Middle East – and Iraq and Afghanistan, specifically) they’re older than that.

But we doubt Stone Age kids had the ability to push away their peas and refuse to eat dinner.

Of course, peas would have looked and tasted different thousands of years ago. As we cultivate vegetables, we tend to choose the ones that match either our taste buds or our ability to grow lots of them (preferably both).

Genetic analysis indicates that kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts were all cultivated from the same plant between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Ancient fruits vs vegetables

Fruits are a different story. Yes, they’ve changed a lot from their ancient and even prehistoric counterparts, but we can find evidence of dates, plums, and of course apples, dating back 30,0000 to 40,0000 years.

So, while we don’t know if the so-called “Caveman” (aka Neandertals) ate exactly what the “caveman diet” says they did, we do know they had a bit of a sweet tooth.

According to Slate: “They definitely ate fruit. Last year, paleoanthropologists found bits of date stuck in the teeth of a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal. There’s evidence that several of the fruits we enjoy eating today have been around for millennia in much the same form. For example, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of 780,000-year-old figs at a site in Northern Israel, as well as olives, plums, and pears from the paleolithic era. Researchers have also dug up grapes that appear to be 7 million years old in northeastern Tennessee (although, oddly, the grapes are morphologically more similar to today’s Asian varieties than the modern grapes considered native to North America). Apple trees blanketed Kazakhstan 30,000 years ago, oranges were common in China, and wild berries grew in Europe. None of these fruits were identical to the modern varieties, but they would have been perfectly edible.”

But veggies are another story. Turns out those needed more work before people liked them.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Peas” —