Sprouts and Christmas dinner, a great British tradition which divides opinion. Rather like Marmite you either love or hate them.
Anyone who has had an overcooked soggy green ball on their plate knows what I mean. Perhaps “I’m a Celebrity” could use them in an eating trial?
Modern stir fry style recipes incorporating bacon and nuts hopefully have consigned soggy bitter sprouts to the past.
I have the distinction of being the only person to my knowledge of being asked to leave a posh London restaurant for starting a food fight involving Brussels sprouts loaded into party poppers and used as offensive weapons.
It takes a bit of patience, but you remove the cardboard shield in the party popper and insert a suitably sized sprout. The restaurant in question had high painted ceilings which we used quite successfully for target practice!
Sprouts at Christmas
But how and when did the British tradition of sprouts with Christmas dinner come from?
Brussel sprouts belong to the Brassica family of vegetables – other members include cabbages, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi.
Brussels sprouts are not native to the UK – they were actually developed from wild cabbage and originate from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. They weren’t introduced to the British Isles until the late nineteenth century.
The vegetable was named after the capital of Belgium after becoming a popular vegetable back in the sixteenth century.
One of the reasons they are perhaps so popular is because the weather conditions in the UK are optimum for sprout production. They grow best in temperate climates observed in Northern Europe, (between 7-24 degrees) and are ready for harvest 90-180 days after planting.
Sprouts have traditionally been harvested in late November, early December so perhaps the abundance of sprouts just before Christmas meant they were plentiful when little else was available?
Whatever the reason, sprouts are a superfood. They contain more vitamin C than an orange and half a pound contain just 80 calories. Providing, of course, all the goodness isn’t in the cooking water left behind.
- In the UK, around 40,000 tonnes of Brussels sprouts are eaten every year.
- We eat more sprouts than anyone else in Europe and the industry is estimated to be worth around £650,000.
- Never give leftover sprouts to your dog unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences. The smell is absolutely awful!
- They really are named after Brussels, the capital of Belgium, where they were a popular 16th-century crop.
- Wayne Sherlock holds the world record for eating 33 sprouts in 60 seconds, set in 2019.
- Chances are that if you’ve eaten a Brussels sprout over the last few years, you’ve eaten one of farmer John Clappison’s. He grows one in 20 of all sprouts sold in the UK, producing 175million of the little beasts each year.
- Farmers use a state-of-the-art sorter which uses three digital cameras to take six pictures of each sprout with the fat or ugly ones being blasted off the conveyor using a jet of compressed air.
- In December, supermarket Morrisons sells about 650 tonnes of sprouts each week. That’s more than the take-off weight of an A380 Airbus.
- Bernard Lavery, of Llanharry in Rhondda Cynon Taff, has held the record for the heaviest Brussels sprout since October 1, 1992, when he grew a monster that weighed in at 8.3kg. Imagine that on your table!
- Packed full of folic acid and anti-cancerous properties, there are plenty of health reasons to eat sprouts.
- There is actually a genetic reason why you and your family may love sprouts whilst your partner and in-laws hate them? It’s all down to a gene: TAS2R38 which controls whether we taste the chemical PTC. This is the chemical responsible for the taste of bitterness.
- An area equal to over 3,200 football pitches is covered by Brussels sprout fields in the UK.
- In 2014, Stuart Kettell pushed a Brussels sprout up Mount Snowdon with his nose for charity. The climb took four days 22 hours and used 20 sprouts.