ML3 Technical Blog

Food safety news and guidance
2 minutes reading time (498 words)

December: Brussel Sprouts


Love them or hate them, Brussels Sprouts are a festive favourite with 4 billion being bought in the week before Christmas; costing around 30 million pounds. A bit like marmite, you either have a 'love it or hate it' response; however, if you fall into the hate camp, there may actually be a chemical and genetic reason why you can't stand the taste.

Brussels Sprouts are part of the Brassica (Cabbage Family) and have been cultivated for thousands of years, they have a great tolerance to salt and limestone and other harsh soils.

No one knows the origin of its cultivar (selectively bred vegetables rather than growing wild) but the French take credit for it's naming it the 18th Century. Then it was common to put a landmark name to foods, whether it was coined from Brussels in Belgium, nobody knows, but records show Brussels Sprouts in that area in the 13th Century.

Many of the Brassica group of plants grow in Winter and were good food and nutrition during the colder months when other foods were scarce.

Brussels Sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C and contains significant amounts of glutamine, an amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Brussels Sprouts are often included in dieting programs, as it is a low calorie food.

Brussels sprouts contain a compound called glucosinolates (also found in broccoli, cabbage and kale). The glucosinolates are thought to form part of the plant's defence systems. Additionally, the breakdown products of glucosinolates, the isothiocyanates, contain the thiocyanate group within their molecules. It is this thiocyanate group that gives Brussels sprouts their bitterness, however, only around 70% of people taste bitterness when they eat thiocyanates. The other 30% of people don't taste anything. This is purely a genetic response.

Modern Brussels sprouts have been bred to reduce the amount of thiocyanates in them, thereby allowing more people to love them.

As Brussels sprouts are important source glucosinolates, when these breakdown, they create compounds such as indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane. These chemicals are being investigated as potential ways to block the growth of cancer cells and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

However, the standard cooking technique boiling reduces those anticancer properties, still better methods such as roasting, steaming or stir frying would be more beneficial.

As chefs are now including raw Brussel sprouts in coleslaws and salads, growers need to be aware of the end consumer use as this will impact the hygiene standards required during harvesting and handling.

In the UK we grow over 3200 hectares of Brussel sprouts that work out about 51,000 tonnes. The main areas for growing them are in Scotland, Yorkshire, Norfolk, East Anglia, Sussex, Cornwall and Somerset.

Growers will typically, plant some fields close to coastal areas to allow for harvesting around Christmas period when the other fields may be wet or frozen. Nothing can stop the sprout harvest in the weeks before Christmas.

You can contact ML3 Technical Services Limited to ensure your systems and procedures meet the required standard to ensure food safety to the end consumer. 

February: Rhubarb
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Sunday, 08 December 2019
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