Brussels sprouts are a member of the cruciferous family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. You can easily recognize them by their appearance—they resemble tiny cabbages.
You may be most familiar with them as a holiday side dish around Thanksgiving or Christmas, but they're nutritious any time of year. Brussels sprouts are a delicious, versatile vegetable that’s a nutrient-dense addition to a holiday menu.
However, there is a drawback to this veggie. They can be bitter.
If you’re serving Brussels sprouts as a side dish to guests or your family, it helps to know how to make them less bitter so you can enjoy their nutritional goodness. Let’s look at some ways to do that.
1. Don't Use the Microwave
Microwaves are like good intentions: they seem like a decent way to get things done, but for combatting Brussels sprout bitterness, they’re not so great.
Most microwaves don’t cook food evenly and can leave your dish tasting flat and bitter. Plus, popping them in the microwave will make them mushy instead of crispy—and who wants mushy Brussels sprouts?
2. Do Roast (But Don’t Boil)
Roasting is a marvelous way to cook vegetables and reduce their bitterness. Roasted Brussels sprouts are delicious and crispy, with a caramelized flavor that you won't get with boiling.
Boiling Brussels sprouts can make them mushy and bitter, but roasting helps bring out their natural sweetness. Boiling also reduces their nutrient content, as some of the vitamins end up in the water that you pour down the sink.
Roast in a Hot Oven
Another tip is to roast Brussels sprouts in a hot oven, so they caramelize, giving them a rich, nutty flavor. Roast those tiny cabbages at 400 degrees F until they're crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, between 25 and 30 minutes.
Beforehand, lightly coat Brussels sprouts with olive oil or avocado, healthier types of fat. The fat will bring out the sweetness of Brussels sprouts as they caramelize in the toasty oven.
Roast an Array of Vegetables
You can also roast Brussels sprouts with other vegetables like carrots or potatoes. This makes an interesting side dish or salad to serve at dinner parties. When people see all those colorful veggies on one plate, they'll be sure to ask what's in it!
Roasted Brussels sprouts will stay crispier longer than boiled ones because there's less moisture using this cooking method. Roasted vegetables retain their crunch longer than boiled ones. (and sometimes even after being refrigerated).
3. Sprinkle With Something Acidic
Did you know sprinkling Brussels sprouts with something acidic, like a squirt of lemon juice will reduce their bitterness?
You can also use Balsamic vinegar or experiment with flavored vinegars to bring out the sweetness of this healthy, but sometimes bitter, vegetable.
Sprinkle some spices on Brussels sprouts while you’re at it for more flavor and to mask the bitterness. Why not sauté them on the stovetop in garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil? The result is tender-crisp perfection!
4. Add Sea Salt Before Cooking
How about a pinch of sea salt? A study published in the journal Appetite revealed that sprinkling vegetables with salt or sugar reduce their bitterness.
Don’t go overboard though since excess sodium isn’t healthy, especially if you have hypertension, heart, or kidney disease. Some people also sprinkle a little brown sugar on Brussels sprouts to combat the bitter taste.
5. Choose Smaller Brussels Sprouts
The smaller the sprout, the less bitter it is. This is because the outer leaves contain most of the bitterness. Therefore, cutting them off will reduce the amount of "sprouty" flavor.
Also, look for baby Brussels sprouts at your supermarket. They're naturally sweeter and take less time to cook. If you don't see them in the fresh produce section, check the frozen food section.
Brussels sprouts can be delicious, but it may take a little effort to make them less bitter. Just like any other vegetable, you must cook them right to avoid the bitter taste you've come to know and hate.
Look for smaller Brussels sprouts, even baby sprouts, and remove some of the outer leaves before cooking them. Choose your cooking method well, like roasting, and a little salt, lemon juice, and your favorite spices.
If you follow these tips, then you should end up with perfectly cooked sprouts every time that is anything but bitter. Enjoy!
Bakke AJ, Stubbs CA, McDowell EH, Moding KJ, Johnson SL, Hayes JE. Mary Poppins was right: Adding small amounts of sugar or salt reduces the bitterness of vegetables. Appetite. 2018;126:90-101. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.03.015.
"The Chemistry of Brussels Sprouts: Bitterness & Genetics." 4 Dec. 2014, https://www.compoundchem.com/2014/12/04/brusselssprouts/.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.