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What do brussel sprouts taste like? Discover Their Flavor


Brussel Sprouts may have a bad reputation for their bitter flavor, but when prepared properly they can be incredibly flavorful and delicious! What do brussel sprouts taste like?

Unsurprisingly, you often see them moved to the side of the plate during dinner. With a little bit of creativity in the kitchen, you can transform these vegetables into something special.

Black plate filled with roasted brussel sprouts

What are brussel sprouts?

Brussel sprouts are a type of vegetable that belongs to the same family as broccoli and cabbage, Brassicaceae family, also called the mustard family.

They are small, round vegetables with a mild flavor profile similar to cabbage but slightly more bitter.

Brussel sprouts can be cooked in many different ways, such as steamed, roasted, or boiled.

When prepared properly, brussel sprouts are a nutritious, delicious addition to any meal.

How Do Brussel Sprouts Grow?

The plant, Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, looks like a regular cabbage during its seedling phase.

Later in its development, this plant grows a tall main stem. It is from this stem that small cabbage-like heads grow. People then pick these heads by hand, which we know and eat as Brussels sprouts.

These little vegetables do not grow in the wild, so people have to cultivate them.

They were first developed in Brussels, Belgium, hence their name. So yes, the correct name of this plant is Brussels sprouts, not Brussel sprouts.

Today, people from other European countries and the Netherlands grow Brussels sprouts.

In the US, most of the supply comes from New York and California, where they’re commercially grown.

What Do Brussels Sprouts Look Like?

Brussels sprouts look like small cabbages. They are round, measuring up to 40mm in diameter.

Like cabbages, these sprouts are compact heads that can be either light or dark green.

They have multiple layers of leaves that come from a single stem.

Their outer leaves are thick and dull, while inner ones are thin and shiny.

What Do Brussels Sprouts Taste Like?

Brussels sprouts have a slightly bitter, nutty flavor. Some people describe the taste as earthy or grassy.

The tiny cabbage-like vegetables can be boiled, steamed, roasted, grilled, stir-fried and even eaten raw.

Cooking Brussels sprouts brings out their natural sweetness and helps reduce their bitterness.

Roasting them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt is a popular way to cook Brussels sprouts, as it helps bring out their natural flavor.

Cooked vS. Raw Brussels Sprouts Taste

Cooking them allows Brussels sprouts to caramelize. This makes their sweet notes shine, mellowing their natural bitterness. So, cooked ones are not as bitter as raw Brussel sprouts.

This is, of course, provided that you cook them correctly. We have a whole section on how to cook Brussels sprouts below.

The most important thing is to refrain from overcooking them. Doing so intensifies the bitter notes instead of masking them. This results in bitter-tasting Brussels sprouts.

Young vs. Mature Brussels Sprouts Taste

Keep in mind that their age affects the flavor of Brussels sprouts.

The older they are, the bigger they grow, and the stronger they imitate the qualities of cabbage.

Plus, the defense mechanism of young sprouts is more active. That said, baby Brussels sprouts taste more bitter than mature ones.

Brussels Sprouts Nutrition

Brussels sprouts are an incredibly nutritious vegetable and a great addition to any healthy diet. They’re low in calories, high in fiber and packed with vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants.

Perhaps, this is one of the biggest reasons people choose to include them in recipes.

For starters, Brussels sprouts are good sources of vitamins C and K.

Just a cup of these small green balls can give you more than the daily recommended vitamin K intake.

Brussels sprouts also pack folic acid – just one piece can give you the amount you need for the day.

These sprouts also contain trace amounts of phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. They also have some thiamin and potassium.

Lastly, they’re high in fiber. Indeed, when it comes to nutrition, you won’t miss out with Brussels sprouts.

How To Prepare Brussel Sprouts Before Cooking

As mentioned, how you cook Brussels sprouts can affect their flavor. That said, preparing them before cooking is also an important step.

These vegetables are delicate.

Here’s how to prepare Brussels sprouts for cooking:

Give Them a Good Rinse

Ensuring that your Brussels sprouts are clean should be the priority. Give them a quick rinse with tap water. This will remove any debris or dirt.

Group Them According to Size

The size of Brussels sprouts indicates not only their taste but also their cooking time. That said, separate the bigger ones from smaller Brussels sprouts.

Cut Off the Base

Next, remove the base of the sprouts using a sharp knife. Doing so makes the outer leaves of the sprouts fall off. This will help remove the outer leaves, which are either wilted or discolored.

Remove Any Damaged Leaves

Examine the remaining leaves of the Brussels sprouts. Take off any damaged leaves. You should also remove any yellow or brown leaves.

Cut the Bigger Sprouts

Bigger sprouts will understandably take longer to cook. Because of this, you need to cut them in half. Doing so will give them a size closer to that of smaller sprouts and enable even cooking.

Examine the Insides

Bigger and older sprouts might have damaged insides. Look carefully for rotten leaves inside halved sprouts. Discard any that have brown leaves inside.

Make an “X” Mark on the Base of Smaller Sprouts 

You don’t have to cut the smaller sprouts in half. Instead, take a sharp knife and make an X mark at their bottoms.

This will enable water and oil to penetrate the sprout. This way, they’ll cook evenly.

Best recipe for brussel sprouts

There are various ways to cook Brussel sprouts. Ensure that you cook them just until they’re tender.

Poking them with a fork is a great way to test this. If the fork gets through the center with little effort, stop cooking them because they’re done.

Here are some of the top ways to cook these tiny veggies:

Sauté

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to cook Brussels sprouts is to sauté them. Sautèed Brussels sprouts are great with chicken, pork, and even pasta dishes.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. On a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. The top oil choice for sautéeing is olive oil.
  2. Put some minced garlic once the oil is hot, then toss your sprouts.
  3. Cook for 15 minutes at the most, with occasional stirring.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. You can also add a dash of lemon juice to enhance the flavor.

Boil

Another easy and quick method to cook Brussels sprouts is to boil them. Boiled sprouts make good side dishes and additions to salads.

Follow these steps:

  1. In a pot, put enough water to submerge the sprouts.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add salt.
  4. Toss the sprouts in and cook until tender.
  5. Drain immediately to avoid overcooking them.
  6. Give them an ice bath if you’ve boiled them longer than needed. Doing so will immediately stop the cooking process.

Roast

Using the oven to roast some sprouts is also a good choice. Roasted brussels sprouts are perfect snacks or side dishes.

Follow these steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.
  2. Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 
  3. Place the sprouts on a baking sheet. 
  4. Bake until tender. That should take 20 minutes, tops.
  5. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese. 

Steam

Another easy way to enjoy some Brussels sprouts is to steam them. When you steam these sprouts, they become tender and really enjoyable to eat.

Here are the steps:

  1. Boil water in a pan.
  2. Put the sprouts into a steamer basket.
  3. Place the basket above the pan, ensuring the water does not touch the sprouts.
  4. Steam for about 7 minutes.
  5. Do not overdo or you’ll end up with soggy sprouts.

Pan-Fry

If you love fried food, pan-frying these veggies will work for you. Serve your pan-fried Brussels sprouts with just about anything. They’re that versatile.

Follow the steps below for perfect pan-fried Brussels sprouts:

  1. Heat oil in a non-stick pan. Olive oil is best for pan-frying.
  2. Fry minced garlic first, then add onions shortly.
  3. Add Brussels sprouts to the pan.
  4. Fry until one side turns golden brown.
  5. Once done, turn the sprouts and cook the other side until brown.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

How long to cook brussel sprouts?

Cooking brussel sprouts can vary greatly depending on the size and freshness of the sprouts.

Generally, if you’re roasting them in a pan or baking sheet with some oil and seasonings, they should cook for 10-15 minutes at 375°F (190°C).

If you’re cooking them in a pot of boiling water, they should take about 10 minutes.

If you’re steaming them, it could take up to 15 minutes depending on the size of your sprouts.

To test for doneness, insert a fork into the center and if it slides in easily, they’re done!

How to make brussel sprouts taste good

As discussed, these sprouts are naturally bitter. Proper cooking methods and strict cooking times can reduce bitterness. But some people might still find them unpleasant despite this.

Not to worry, though; there are a few ways to improve Brussels sprouts’ taste.

Use Fat

To mask the bitter taste of Brussels sprouts, add fat to your recipe. Use a bit of oil to cook them. You can also slather them with some butter before serving them. Heavy cream also works wonders.

Fat somehow tricks your taste buds and mellows the bitter taste. This makes eating baby Brussels sprouts a more enjoyable experience.

Add Flavors

Use salt, sugar, honey, or even cheese to counter the bitterness of the sprouts. You can use lemon juice, mustard, and vinegar as well. The key is to use a strong-tasting ingredient to even out the flavor of your dish.

Include Some Herbs

The flavor of herbs can also mask the unpleasant notes in your sprouts. Parsley and basil are quick additions. They can transform your recipe from bitter to better!

Spice Them Up

Another brilliant way to improve Brussels sprouts’ flavor is adding some heat. Use chili pepper flakes to put some heat into your dish.

Doing so will mask the bitter flavor and somehow “fool” your taste buds. This way, these veggies will taste more appetizing.

Allow Them To Caramelize

Brussels sprouts caramelize when you cook them in certain ways. This brings out the sweet notes of the sprouts instead of highlighting the bitter ones. Obviously, boiling them doesn’t allow caramelization. But frying or roasting does.

How To Store Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts do not spoil easily, provided that you store them correctly.

If you refrigerate them, they can last three to five weeks.

To properly store the sprouts in the fridge, keep them unwashed. Washing them exposes them to moisture and promotes mold formation.

Ensure that the sprouts are dry, then place them in an airtight container. Store the container in the crisper drawer for best results.

You can also freeze Brussels sprouts to maximize their shelf life. But you are better off blanching them first than freezing them raw. Freezing them blanched helps retain their nutritional content. Plus, it prevents them from turning mushy once you defrost them.

Blanch your sprouts for four minutes, then submerge them in ice water. Then, pat them dry. Flash freeze by putting them on a baking sheet and freezing them overnight. Finally, store them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer. This way, they’ll stay good for six months.

How to tell if brussel sprouts are bad?

When checking the quality of brussel sprouts, there are a few signs to look for that indicate it has gone bad.

First, inspect the color of the brussel sprout and make sure it is bright green with no yellow or brown spots. If you notice any discoloration, discard the vegetable immediately as it has likely gone bad.

Next, check for any soft spots or dark patches that may be present on the vegetable. If you find any, discard it, as this is an indication of spoilage.

Finally, take a sniff of the brussel sprout and make sure there isn’t an off-putting odor coming from it. If there is, the brussel sprout has gone bad and should be discarded.

If none of these signs are present, then the brussel sprouts are good to eat and can be used in your cooking.

Why Do Brussels Sprouts Taste Bitter?

Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family and they have a naturally bitter flavor due to their high concentrations of glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are compounds that give Brussels sprouts, as well as other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, their characteristic bitterness.

Do Brussel Sprouts Taste Like Cabbage?

Yes. Cabbage and Brussel sprouts share similar flavor notes. The flavor of Brussels sprouts is a cross between green cabbage and broccoli. That said, these sprouts can taste like cabbages. 

Can you eat brussel sprouts raw?

Yes, you can eat brussel sprouts raw! When eaten raw, they have a slightly bitter taste and a crunchy texture. However, some people may find them to be too tough or difficult to chew when raw. If you prefer a milder flavor and softer texture, you can lightly steam or sauté them before consuming. To get the most nutritional benefits, try adding raw brussel sprouts to salads or other dishes for a crunchy and nutritious addition.

Summary

What do Brussel sprouts taste like? They are naturally bitter. But their sweet and nutty notes become more evident when cooked properly. And, no matter how you cook them, they’ll stink up your kitchen because of their sulfur content. The key is to cook them quickly.

Do note that there are ways to mask their strong bitter taste. Adding intense-flavored ingredients like chilis and basil works. Using butter and oil to cook them also helps!

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Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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