Agriculture boffins believe they have finally found a way to get young people to like Brussels sprouts – and their solution is having an immediate result.
Agro-scientists at R & K Drysdale, one of the UK’s largest brassica growers based in Cockburnspath, Scotland, say that investment in an ultra hi-tec grading machine, nicknamed the ‘sproutatron’, is helping them select perfect sprouts.
Working with Tesco to supply around 70 per cent of its sprout demand, the machine allows Drysdale to accurately size the sprouts with the push of a button.
By matching Brussels sprouts according to size, customers will find their packs have more consistently sized sprouts within each bag, making the cooking process more even.
And it means an end to the dining table lottery of some people getting small and overcooked soggy sprouts, while others crunch through harder big ones, due to the time that they have been boiling in the pan.
But also important has been the introduction of new milder and sweeter sprout varieties, particularly one called Cobelius, which is more palatable than the traditional, widespread Doric variety.
The machine and the new, milder varieties are clearly having a positive effect, as a recent survey by Tesco revealed that the number of 18-to-24-year-olds who claim to ‘love’ sprouts has risen from 26 per cent in 2021 to 44 per cent in 2022 – an uplift of 69 per cent.
Tesco produce buyer Sam Miller explains “Thanks to the latest technology, our customers will be able to buy some of the very best tasting and freshest sprouts available.
“These machines also speed up the grading procedure, which drastically cuts the time it takes to get the sprouts from the field to our shelves. That means the sprouts our customers take home this Christmas will stay fresh for even longer.
“And judging by the survey we undertook a few months ago, last year’s perfect sprouts have already led to a major increase in younger people now liking the vegetable – something many thought impossible just a few years ago!”
Drysdale’s long-term relationship with Tesco allowed them to invest in the grading machine, which is also able to peel and pack the sprouts.
The machine works by taking eight photos of the sprout as they move along a catwalk-like conveyor belt, identifying any that need processing such as having yellow leaves taken off.
And the result now means being able to pack even-sized sprouts, ending the ages old problem of having some that are large and others that are small once they reach supermarket shelves.
Another key factor is the progress made by seed houses in developing sweeter varieties which are more appealing to younger people.
The massive popularity of TV cooking programmes has also had an impact, with innovative new ways to enjoy sprouts such as roasting or frying them and even shredding them in salads.
Drysdale General Manager Gavin Milne, pictured, commented “We work closely with seed houses on varietal development and taste, with the aim being to eliminate varieties that are more bitter than others.
“Research into creating new varieties with low bitterness levels and an attractive mild taste has been going on for a while and Drysdale now have many of these varieties in their growing plans every year.”