During the Open Days this year, Bejo organised a symposium about taste, health and innovation in Brussels sprouts. Over 100 participants - from the United States to Croatia, Guatemala to Norway – attended this event which really highlighted the increasing interest for this very special, highly nutritious vegetable crop.
Unfortunately, we still hear a few stubborn clichés about Brussels sprouts: a bad or bitter taste, children refuse to eat them, a vegetable only for “old” people – and a few more! But in reality, the situation is very different. Breeders have managed to improve the taste dramatically over the years, and consumers increasingly consider Brussels sprouts a tasty and healthy vegetable. As a matter of fact, in the USA Brussels sprouts made the top 10 in ANDI ranking of most nutritious food products, just below kale.
In the past, the main consumption was concentrated in North Western Europe and Brussels sprouts were considered a typical winter vegetable, but recently we are seeing more and more markets embracing them as a great addition and feature in their local cuisines. As a result, they are enjoyed all year-round and not just as a side dish, but as a starter or snack, with many different cooking methods being used too, such as stir-fry, or roasting.
Over the years, Bejo has always been a firm believer in Brussels sprouts. In close cooperation with our partner Elsoms in the United Kingdom we continued to look for improvements and keep a high profile with our breeding programs, despite a sometimes declining market interest in this crop. Roel Veenstra, crop research manager for Brassica’s at Bejo, gave an insight into the world of breeding Brussels sprouts. He began with some crop history, followed by the growing areas and hectares of Brussels sprouts worldwide, and of course trends and content matter were included as well. Roel also revealed the important characteristics of the breeding program, which amongst others included trials, disease resistance, yield and quality. Every market, whether fresh or industry, has its own goals to breed for. Bejo has an assortment suitable for a complete growing season, climate zones and different market demands. As an example, the Bejo variety Divino has a good bolting tolerance, produces smooth, dark green sprouts and is suitable for early production and mechanical harvesting.
I now know why the Dutch are so strong and tall – they just eat a lot of Brussels sprouts! It was inspiring to see the industry talk about the latest developments in Brussels sprouts at the Bejo Open Days.
Chairman Peter Buter talked in detail about Brussels sprouts being an interesting crop for the Americas. Bob Thorp, Vice President of Production Growers Express emphasised this with his presentation about the US market. An interesting discussion point was the amount of diversification in Brussels sprouts on the market right now. Alongside Brussels Sprouts themselves, convenient packs for easy usage, such as steaming, are available. Other product forms like shredded or halved Brussels sprouts are popular too.
Before introducing the end product to the market, it is of course very important to grow perfect Brussels sprouts. How this is achieved was explained by Maurits van der Hout, agronomist and sales lead for CZAV. He gave some tips and tricks about the choices made before planting, fertilization, crop protection and challenges of the future. Once you have managed to produce perfect Brussels sprouts, then harvesting them so that they remain perfect becomes very important. Nowadays a lot of the harvesting is mechanised. Henk Molenaar shared more information about this method, including the necessary characteristics required for mechanical harvesting where trimming is also required, plus developments for the future.
After an inspiring morning with some good discussion, the symposium was closed by a networking lunch where, of course, Brussels sprouts were the main ingredient! In the afternoon, participants were invited to visit the Brussels sprouts demo field to discuss the Bejo varieties and see the performance in the field.
According to chairman Peter Buter: “It was inspiring to see the industry talk about the latest developments in Brussels sprouts at the Bejo Open days. Besides improvements in taste and innovative recipes, the nutritional value of Brussels sprouts has been a particular driving factor in the explosive growth of this ‘veggie’.”