It is the vegetable that divides a nation, a family, a dinner table at Christmas. Empires will rise and fall and Brits will still be arguing about whether Brussels sprouts are tasty or just a horrible excuse for food.
Your mum might try to make them palatable by frying them with bacon, nuts, cheese and all manner of other delicious things which successfully mask the taste, but you still know the truth.
So why do some people hate them so much? We decided to ask the experts before the annual showdown peaks on the 25 December.
What is it about Brussels sprouts that we hate?
Now that we’re fully grown adults, we do actually enjoy a vegetable every once in a while (yes, even broccoli) but Brussels sprouts remain firmly off the menu.
Stacey Lockyer, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says: “Brussels sprouts are one of a group of vegetables known as cruciferous vegetables or Brassica which also includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Brassica contain high amounts of compounds called glucosinolates which, when metabolised in the body, give them their characteristic sharp or bitter taste.”
And it is this sharp or bitter taste that people either like or hate.
Why do we hate this taste?
Your parents are convinced you’re just doing it to be difficult, but turns out this is (almost certainly) not your fault, and in fact your family could be to blame.
Lockyer says: “Whether we like or dislike certain foods is determined by different factors (such as previous experiences with a food and number of exposures), but some studies have demonstrated that the perception of bitterness of cruciferous vegetables is linked to genetic differences in taste receptors on the tongue.”
Duane Mellor, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, agrees that this is why some of us cannot stomach the sprout: “I guess you are interested in the ability to taste PROP in the sprouts – the bitter compound.
“How you taste this is inherited and most people taste it as bitter, about 25% taste it very strongly.”
How did we end up with this Brussels-hating gene?
Described as an autosomal dominant gene, you only need to inherit it from one of your parents for it to have the affect of making foods like Brussels taste like a bitter pile of garbage.
This Christmas you might want to tell your parents that the reasons many of your ancestors survived being poisoned was the very same reason you can’t tolerate the green vegetables.
Mellor says: “This single nucleotide polymorphism was protective when many bitter foods were toxic.”
Does this mean we can never learn to like them?
If the cause of our hatred is genetic, surely that means we can never learn to like them (so stop trying to make us grandma). Well, apparently not.
Mellor says that there is not extensive research into converting brussel sprouts haters to lovers, but anecdotally (from his work in nutrition and personal experience) that you can learn to like them.
“It is possible to learn to enjoy bitter tastes.”
We won’t tell anyone if you don’t…
Are we really missing out on anything?
We know that it is always best to embrace every aspect of life and not shun an entire food, but how much does our brussels sprouts hatred really matter?
Lockyer says: “It is important to eat plenty of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables every day for health so it is worth trying to branch out and include vegetables that may not be your favourites in your diet.”
Hmm, maybe next year.