Brussels sprouts — some people love them, some people hate them. However, for many, brussels sprouts are becoming standard fare (especially around the holidays), as home cooks move beyond the sad, boiled Brussels sprouts you may have grown up with, to more palatable recipes like roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic or roasted Brussels sprouts with cheese and bacon (because everything’s better with cheese and bacon).
But what if you’ve tried some of these much-improved Brussels sprouts recipes and still just find the veggie too bitter for your taste? Well, it might have to do with your genes.
According to a 2011 study, brussels sprouts contain a particular chemical that tastes bitter, but only to a portion of the population (it’s kind of like how some people love cilantro but others think it tastes like soap). The study estimated that about 50% of people have this gene mutation that makes Brussels taste bitter.
That said, before you chalk your general dislike for this ingredient up to science, consider that you may have just been making a few, common Brussels sprouts mistakes. There are some tried-and-tested ways you can reduce Brussels sprouts’ bitter notes, for better noshing, no matter your gene pool.
Here are four ways to make Brussels sprouts less bitter.
1. Buy your Brussels sprouts fresh and at the right time.
If you want the best Brussels sprouts, timing is key. The sweetest Brussels sprouts can be found fresh and ideally locally grown in late fall or early winter. This is because Brussels sprouts improve in taste after being exposed to a few light frosts, which causes them to convert starches to sugars, resulting in a sweeter (and less bitter) flavor. You’ll be able to taste these sugars after you cook the sprouts.
If it’s just not feasible for you to pick up the freshest Brussels sprouts at just the right time, though, there are other things you can do.
2. Prep them correctly.
Don’t just throw your Brussels sprouts onto a roasting pan with a little olive oil and salt and expect great results. To cut down on some of that bitterness, take a few extra steps.
When you clean and prep your Brussels sprouts for cooking, be sure to remove the outer leaves. Additionally, rather than going straight to the roasting pan, consider quickly blanching the sprouts first, which can also help reduce bitter flavors.
3. Caramelization is key.
When it comes to Brussels sprouts, the best flavors are made possible via caramelization. Because of this, as you’re cooking, try to create a cooking environment ideal for caramelization without burning. Cook on high heat, use enough cooking fat or oil, and choose a cooking style that’s going to lend itself to caramelization — such as roasting rather than boiling.
4. Pair the right flavors.
If you’re finding a certain ingredient is too bland, boring, or bitter for your tastebuds, it might just be the case that you’re not pairing that ingredient with the right other ingredients. Just like you need extra add-ons, mix-ins, and toppings to turn brown rice from boring to tasty, you often need the same for Brussels sprouts.
Try pairing your Brussels with brown sugar and butter, like you might a sweet potato, or go the savory route with cheese, bacon, chili flakes, and/or garlic.
Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts (That Aren’t Bitter)
- 1 large skillet
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts halved
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 1 tsp maple syrup or honey
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
- 2 tbsp walnuts chopped (optional)
- fresh parsley for garnish
- Remove the outer layer of the Brussels sprouts. Blanch them in boiling water for 3 mins, then plunge into ice water. Drain and dry, and then cut them in half.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute, being careful not to let it burn (overcooked garlic will add bitterness of its own). Revmove garlic from the skillet and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add the sprouts, cut side down, and cook until golden and starting to carmelize (5-6 mins).
- Season with smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Add sautéed garlic, lemon juice and maple syrup; stir well.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan and nuts, if using. Cook for 2-3 more mins.
- Remove from heat. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.