Brussels sprouts, or Brassica oleracea gemmifera, are related to other better-known vegetables in the Brassica genus like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They are part of the cruciferae or mustard family, so known because of a four-part flower in the shape of a cross.
Brussels sprouts are a very good source of many essential vitamins, fiber, and folate. They are especially high in Vitamin C. They, along with their other cruciferous cousins, have been shown to have some very beneficial effects against certain types of cancer, as they contain many different ingredients that are believed to help prevent the disease. Learn more about the benefits of Brussels sprouts.
There are several different varieties of hybrid Brussels sprouts currently being grown in the US.
Hybrid varieties replaced the open-pollinated types produced prior to the 1960's because of the need for more uniform maturation of the plants due to the switch from hand harvesting to machine. Some of the original varieties developed, particularly Jade Cross, had several characteristics that were desirable, though they tasted rather bitter. The current varieties have an improved taste, as some are almost sweet. The first variety that matures in 140-160 days from transplanting is called Confidant, though they are topped, removing the terminal bud between 90-100 days, so that the sprouts mature uniformly along the stalk . They are slightly darker green, denser, with tightly wrapped leaves. These are usually available from March through November. Some of the late season varieties are Genius and Cobus. They take from 180-195 days from transplanting to harvest, and they are available from December through January. These varieties are used because of their better tolerance of the winter weather.
Sprouts were believed to have been cultivated in Italy in Roman times, and possibly as early as the 1200s in Belgium. The modern Brussels sprout that we are familiar with was first cultivated in large quantities in Belgium (hence the name "Brussels" sprouts) as early as 1587, with their introduction into the U.S. in the 1800s. They were grown in California in the early 1900s, with the first central coast plantings in the 1920s. With the development of the frozen food industry in the 1940s, Brussels sprouts production in California increased to its highest levels over the next 20 years. As production techniques improved and as foreign imports increased, there was a dip in acreage until 2012, when they once again experienced tremendous growth due to increased presence on cooking shows and restaurants, and as people found new and exciting ways to prepare them. This acreage supplies the majority of the U.S. production from March through January, with acreage now spread from San Mateo down to San Diego to meet this increase in demand. Brussels sprouts are also exported to Canada, as they are more popular there than in the U.S.