Brussel Sprouts and Christmas

7th December 2016

The UK loves Brussel sprouts. We eat more sprouts than anyone else in Europe (despite the fact that it originally came from France via Belgium to our shores). Obviously consumption of our little green friends peaks in December when we eat over 750 million of them but many of us eat them all through the winter (roast, steam, stir fry but don’t boil is the current cooking advice). For us in the UK spouts are a great seasonal homegrown option for our winter dishes due to the fact that they are frost hardy and so can grow through our cold winters.

There are over 110 different varieties of sprouts and sprout production in the UK covers an area equivalent to 3,240 football pitches. Sprouts are rich in vitamin A and vitamin C and contain folic acid and dietary fibre. Despite all this goodness and homegrown local credentials some people absolutely hate Brussel sprouts. There is a theory that this is a genetic issue and that people with a variation on a certain gene (about 50% of the population) taste a chemical in sprouts as totally bitter.

This Christmas the sprout hating 50% of the UK population could be in luck. Some of the largest UK sprout producers have revealed large crop losses this year due to an invasion of diamond backed moths (aka cabbage moths). One of the biggest vegetable growers in the channel islands revealed last week that he had lost his entire December sprout harvest to the pest and now Lincolnshire farmers are reporting losses of over 50% of their crop.

Lincolnshire is a huge UK vegetable production area and supplies approximately two thirds of all UK sprouts according to the British Growers Association so sprout supply is in danger, especially supply of the most popular varieties. Some growers in Lincolnshire have reported enormous crop wastage. This impacts hugely on their production costs and the profitability (and thus, sustainability) of sprout growing. Suffolk, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also reporting similar issues.

The moths arrived in two distinct invasions over the summer months – in May and July, which is earlier than normally expected. They laid eggs almost immediately (and it is the larvae that cause the damage). These moths are known as a super pest due to their ability to become resistant to a wide range of pesticides.

I, for one, am definitely ready to start hunting for sprouts already, I do not have the bitter gene and Christmas dinner is not Christmas dinner without sprouts!