The British Love and Hate Relationship with Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts, Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, form many miniature buds around the stem. © Karen Andrews.

Brussels Sprouts are one of those vegetables firmly associated with Christmas dinner. Most of the population seems to have a love or hate relationship with them. It took my ultra-polite brother-in-law around 10 years to tell my mother that he didn’t like them. Poor soul, he must have suffered an ever-increasing portion from year to year, because she thought he adored them. Personally, I do love my mother’s Brussels Sprouts because she knows not to overcook them. Overcooking is often why this Christmas vegetable is often the target of so much hatred.


Brussels Sprouts are not found in the wild. They evolved in cultivation from wild cabbage, as did cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and kale. The exact history is uncertain. Many claims exist that are not corroborated by any documentary evidence. However, it is not disputed that sprouts originated around Brussels. They do not appear to have travelled outside Brussels and France until the 19th century. They first made it into a British cookery book in 1845. Their arrival seemed to coincide with Christmas feasting. Since that time, sprouts have become an accepted, staple part of the British Christmas dinner. We British eat more Brussels Sprouts than any other European nation.

Winter Availability

Seasonality is undoubtedly in this vegetable’s favour. They grow well in Northern Europe’s winter temperatures. It is even claimed that frost improves their flavour. Huge areas are dedicated to growing Brussels Sprouts in Britain.

Health Benefits

The unavoidable issue is their reputation for causing gas. However, there are many health benefits in favour of Brussels sprouts. Chiefly, they are high in fibre and low in calories. They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin K. Potential to ward off various health issues is promoted but not yet totally confirmed by scientific research.

Remember go for young Brussels sprouts this Christmas and do not overcook them. Some people will always detest them whatever the stated health benefits. Taste buds are simply different.

References and Further Reading

  • Davidson, Alan (2006): The Oxford Companion to Food. Second Edition. Edited by Tom Jaine. Oxford.
  • iNews (2017): How Brussels sprouts became a vital part of Christmas dinner. 18 December 2017
  • Link, Rachael (2017): 10 Ways Brussels Sprouts Benefit Your Health. Heathline. 8 September 2017.
  • Stocks, Christopher (2008): Forgotten Fruits. A guide to Britain’s traditional fruit and vegetables. Random House Books. London.


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

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