Traditional Christmas vegetable likely to be up to a third bigger, say experts, following consistently higher autumn temperatures
Brussels sprouts are likely to be up to a third bigger than usual this winter after unseasonably warm autumn weather enabled a bumper crop.
Supermarkets are trying to change perceptions of the much-maligned vegetable with new red sprouts, alongside the traditional green, a guacamole-style sprout dip and sprouts shredded and shaved into coleslaw and salads, inspired by the chef Mark Hix.
Extra sunshine in September last year helped produce larger sprouts, growers said. But this year, the warmth has been more consistent throughout the autumn and well into November. For much of the past four weeks, temperatures in the UK have been as high as 15C and the additional heat has boosted individual sprout growth.
The current cold snap could slow further growth, but in an attempt to reduce food waste, the Co-operative has changed the specification for its sprouts to acknowledge the bigger size, so growers can utilise more of their crop. It is selling what Good Housekeeping has identified as the cheapest British supermarket sprouts at 49p for 450g.
Tesco brussels sprout expert Rob Hooper said: “The larger size of sprouts will be good news for customers cooking the Christmas dinner this year, as it means the vegetables will be easier to peel, without losing their sweet flavour. Nobody likes the chore of peeling sprouts, but this year, because of their size, shoppers will need fewer of them on their Christmas dinner plates and that means less work in the kitchen.”
Jayne Dyas, the secretary of the Brassica Growers Association, said: “Overall, it’s been a bumper yield in the UK and, in counties where it has been consistently warm, we are seeing larger sprouts.” Last year’s annual yield of 70,000 tonnes, or 50m sprouts, could be surpassed thanks to the warmer weather, she added.
Tesco’s sprouts are grown by one of the UK’s largest brassica suppliers, TH Clements, based in Benington, Lincolnshire. Commercial manager Richard Mowbray said: “In a normal year, average sprouts are about 30mm in diameter and weigh around 15g, and the ones we are harvesting already are absolute whoppers – over 50mm in diameter and weighing over 50g.”
As much as 80% of total British sprout sales take place in the two weeks before Christmas and into the new year. Clements said the cooler weather forecast for next week is welcome as it will slow the growth of sprouts and help some of the leaves drop from the stalks, making harvesting easier.
Waitrose sprout buyer Patrick Keane said the supermarket was “currently seeing bigger sprouts due to the unseasonably mild weather we’ve experienced in the last month. When temperatures rise, so do the size of our sprouts, although it is difficult to predict whether this larger size will continue to Christmas”.
The so-called Christmas rush for sprouts has already begun at Waitrose, with sales of its most popular pack up by 20%. This year, it will be selling traditional sprouts alongside flower sprouts, green sprout stalks and a red sprout stalk, all grown in the UK.
Marks & Spencer said its sprouts were slightly bigger due to the mild autumn this year, but that with cold weather now forecast, growth should slow.
M&S has this year launched what it claims to be the world’s first “Brusselsmole”, a twist on guacamole made with pureed sprouts instead of avocado and a splash of maple syrup. It has also created the brussels sprout banger, a British pork sausage made from smoked bacon and fresh brussels sprouts, and will be serving sprout salads on its deli counters. Asda is selling sprout coleslaw this year, as well as red sprouts.
This article was written by Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 22nd November 2015 15.16 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010