Tipped as the next big produce hybrid to make its mark on the UK food lover’s consciousness, the tiny cabbage-like flower sprout is starting to prove its worth, so much so that Tozer Seeds UK is rebranding the the vegetable as ‘Kalette’ to cash-in on the continued kale effect and looking to breed new varieties to extend availability
A cross-breed of kale and Brussels sprouts, flower sprouts or ‘kalette’, as they will be known from this autumn on the UK market, have been around since their introduction to Marks and Spencer (M&S) in 2010.
Despite a very British conception, flower sprouts have initially been very successful in the US, with green and lean actress Gwyneth Paltrow pledging favouritism and giving the vegetable the kiss of popularity.
Named “the hot new vegetable of 2015” by Fox News, the trend has also been picked up in the UK, as foodie magazines and chefs experiment with the vegetable, and retailers M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and Aldi take them on.
Breeder Tozer Seeds reports that sales have doubled each year for the past two years, with growth being particularly rapid in northern Europe, so much so that the firm expects sales of the hybrid veg to triple in the region next year.
Flower sprouts are also stocked by retailers in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland.
Tozer Seeds hopes all the major UK supermarkets will list the vegetable in the upcoming 2016 season.
Latin name: Brassica oleracea (the same as Brussels sprouts).
Other names: Flowering sprout, Brusselkale and Kalette (by which it is already known in the US and Australia).
Growing season: November to March.
Origin: Kale and Brussels sprouts have been cross-fertilised to create the hybrid flower sprout. Bred by British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds using traditional breeding techniques, it’s a natural move since the two vegetables are both members of the brassica family.
Appearance: Like a little frilly dark green to purple cabbage, flower sprouts literally are a combination of kale and Brussels sprouts with curly leaves and purple veins, all contained in small buds that look well formed and brittle but are actually very soft to touch. They are described as tiny cabbages or little kales and look very attractive on the plate.
Taste: A sweet-tasting brassica, with a more subtle flavour than Brussels sprouts and all the frilliness but none of the toughness of kale, flower sprouts are described as mild, sweet and nutty in taste. When deep or shallow fried, they take on more of a deep kale flavour, but when steamed or sautéed they are rather like a sweet sprout.
Chicken breast roll filled with roasted red pepper garnished with flower sprout
Harvesting: Flower sprouts grow like a Brussels sprout plant, with a tall stem and buds forming all the way up to a frill-leafed top. Only growing in cold temperatures, they are planted in spring and harvested throughout autumn and winter. Most production is handled by specialist brassica growers in the UK and the Netherlands.
Popularity: Currently working with agency MINT, which has been coordinating the marketing and PR for flower sprouts across northern Europe, Tozer Seeds is at the beginning of generating a marketing budget to grow the sales of flower sprouts further, which will enable the firm to invest in more consumer-focused marketing in future.
“Once we decided the product had the potential to be an entirely new vegetable within the UK, the breeding aims were to grow plants that produced a uniform and consistent yield, and to create a set of varieties with different maturities to give the growers as long a season as possible,” explains Tozer Seeds’ David Rogers. “As they have been so popular, this will now go further. We are really looking at new varieties, and earlier maturing varieties in particular.
“Our success so far is quite simple, I think. Flower sprouts are really very tasty, convenient and versatile. These are the three factors we identified 20 years ago as our goals and are arguably even more relevant to consumers in 2016. They are also popular within the catering industry, although this is a little more difficult to measure. We have certainly been aware of flower sprouts appearing on the menus of some fairly prestigious restaurants.”
Red curry of flower sprout, pumpkin and courgette
Cooking: Promoted as and bred to be easy to cook, flower sprouts are very versatile and can be steamed, roasted, microwaved, stir fried, boiled or blanched. Cookery recipes range from frying in tempura batter to using the vegetable raw or blanched in a salad. Restaurants, meanwhile, appear to be enjoying flower sprouts as a seasonal side dish through the winter, adding a bit of interest to a very root dominated vegetable season.
Flower sprouts pair particularly well with fish and chicken, and any light-tasting meat, or with seeds and nuts as a healthy side or salad. The vegetable is mainly cooked whole and served whole to keep the attractive flower-like visual effect.
Tikka masala flower sprouts
Christmas flower sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta and truffle oil
Italian flower sprouts with spinach, ricotta tortelloni with smoky bacon butter
Nutrition: Flower sprouts are a rich source of nutrients, particularly vitamin K, C, folate, fibre and carotenoids. They contain double the amount of vitamin B6 and twice the amount of vitamin C than their parent, Brussels sprouts.
Flower sprout smoothie
Fact: In 2013 flower sprouts won third place in the Innovation Award at Fruit Logistica, the annual global fruit and vegetable trade exhibition. The gong is is recognition for outstanding innovation in the international fresh produce sector.
Next big thing: Rosetta sprouts – these are more open and flower-like than normal sprouts, like a mini savoy cabbage but more tender and they cook quicker.