Brussels sprouts are a small, sphere-shaped, crunchy vegetable in the Brassica genus of plants.
They grow on a stalk but are often sold already removed and in a bag, ready to prepare. Many people enjoy Brussels sprouts cooked, while others eat them chopped and raw, such as in coleslaw or a salad.
With their bitter flavor and crunchy texture, you may wonder whether you can eat uncooked Brussels sprouts.
This article reviews the safety of eating raw Brussels sprouts, how cooking changes their nutrient content, and ways to prepare them.
Some people avoid eating certain legumes, grains, and vegetables unless they’ve been cooked due to concerns about antinutrients, or compounds that can inhibit the absorption of important minerals.
For instance, spinach contains oxalates, and soybeans are high in phytates. These naturally occurring compounds may block the absorption of minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron in your body. Cooking reduces antinutrients (
While Brussels sprouts don’t contain some of the most common antinutrients, they do contain compounds called glucosinolates.
Glucosinolates have been found to reduce the absorption of iodine. Iodine deficiency can interfere with thyroid function and eventually lead to goiter, which is an abnormally enlarged thyroid gland (
While people with existing thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism may want to minimize their glucosinolate consumption, eating them as part of a well-balanced diet is low risk for most healthy people.
Plus, glucosinolates appear to offer health benefits, such as anticancer properties (6,
Still, if you’re concerned about consuming glucosinolates, these are best reduced from Brassica vegetables like Brussels sprouts by boiling them. Other methods of cooking like steaming have been found to preserve the most glucosinolates (
Brussels sprouts can be consumed raw. Unlike certain other vegetables, grains, and legumes, Brussels sprouts don’t contain some of the common antinutrients that some people avoid. Yet, their glucosinolate content can be reduced through cooking.
Eating raw Brussels sprouts is similar to eating other raw cruciferous vegetables like cabbage or broccoli and may cause similar side effects.
In addition to having a bitter flavor, raw Brussels sprouts may increase gas in some people.
They contain an indigestible fiber called raffinose, which can be tough on the stomach. When bacteria in your large intestine try to break this and other indigestible fibers down, they produce gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane (
This may cause even more discomfort among people with existing digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as in those who may not be used to eating Brussels sprouts or similar vegetables.
The most common side effect of eating raw Brussels sprouts is that it may cause increased gas. This could be the most uncomfortable among people who have existing digestive conditions like IBS.
Like other greens and cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts tend to have a certain window for cooking that gives them an ideal flavor and texture.
If cooked too long, Brussels sprouts can become mushy and bitter. If they’re not cooked long enough, they can be very hard to chew and not as sweet.
A good starting place is to steam, sauté, or boil Brussels sprouts for 5–7 minutes. If roasting them in the oven, start with 20–30 minutes.
Cooking Brussels sprouts releases the enzyme myrosinase. It breaks down glucosinolates into isothiocyanates, which may have anticancer properties. Be careful though, as cooking vegetables over 284˚F (140˚C), such as when roasting, destroys glucosinolates (
Studies on cruciferous vegetables have found that water-cooking methods like boiling preserve the most antioxidants, especially carotenoids. What’s more, cooking vegetables, in general, increases their total antioxidant power (
Levels of water-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin C, tend to decrease when you cook vegetables using water-heavy methods like boiling. On the other hand, some studies have found that levels of vitamins E and K increase when you cook cruciferous vegetables (
When Brussels sprouts are cooked, they may undergo some nutrient changes. Levels of the antioxidant vitamins E and K increase during cooking, but levels of some water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C, decrease.
Brussels sprouts have a reputation for being disliked by children and adults alike, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Like many other vegetables, the flavor of Brussels sprouts changes depends on how you prepare them.
Raw, uncooked Brussels sprouts are best when they’re chopped or diced into small pieces. Try raw Brussels sprouts in some of these ways:
- Salad. Mix thinly sliced Brussels sprouts into a salad with leafy greens and other raw vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, and tomatoes. Drizzle your creation with your favorite salad dressing.
- Coleslaw. Grate or shred your whole, raw Brussels sprouts. Mix them with slaw ingredients like olive oil, vinegar, honey, brown mustard, minced garlic, almonds or pecans, and dried cranberries.
- Sandwiches. Thinly slice your Brussels sprouts and use them as layering greens on a sandwich, as you would with spinach or lettuce, for a nice crunch.
Brussels sprouts are also delicious cooked. Wash them, trim them, and cut them into your desired shape or size. Try cooking them in some of these ways:
- Steamed. Bring an inch of water to a boil in a pot and add a fitted steamer basket. Place Brussels sprouts in your basket, cover them, and let them steam for 5–7 minutes or until the desired tenderness is reached.
- Sautéed. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add sliced sprouts and shake the skillet gently so they form a single layer. Heat them for about 5–7 minutes on each side and season them with a few pinches of salt, pepper, and garlic powder or lemon juice.
- Roasted. Cut your Brussels sprouts in half and toss them in a large mixing bowl with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook them for approximately 30 minutes at 400°F (204°C).
- Boiled. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add Brussels sprouts and boil them for 10 minutes or until you can pierce them with a fork. Drain your sprouts in a colander and then season them with butter, salt, and pepper or as desired.
Brussels sprouts can be prepared in a number of ways, both raw and cooked. Whether you choose to chop them raw into a salad or sauté them as a side dish, Brussels sprouts offer a healthy and delicious addition to meals.
Brussels sprouts are a nutritious vegetable in the cruciferous family. While they’re often enjoyed cooked using methods like roasting, steaming, or boiling, you can also enjoy Brussels sprouts raw.
The most common side effect of eating raw Brussels sprouts is that they may cause gas in some people. Also, those who have hypothyroidism may want to avoid them in large amounts due to their potential iodine-inhibiting compounds.
For most people, however, the biggest determinant of whether you should eat them raw is your taste preference.
Chop them up into a salad, layer them into a sandwich, or shred them and make them into a coleslaw.
Just one thing
Try this today: Roast Brussels sprouts drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Try these as a side dish or mixed into a bowl of grains, leafy greens, roasted tofu, and seeds for a filling and healthy meal.