Known as the “flower sprout,” a new vegetable will be hitting supermarkets this fall — a hybrid between Brussels sprouts and British kale. This plant hybrid, despite what you may think, is not a genetically-modified (GM) plant, but rather is created in a quite natural way.
Developed through cross-pollination by Tozer Seeds America, “BrusselKale” is meant to be a “new fresh fusion of sweet and nutty,” with the goal of making both of these nutritional vegetables more appetizing by combining them into a novelty hybrid. Tozer Seeds spent 15 years developing the Flower Sprout, in order to give it a “more subtle flavor which was versatile and looked great.” According to the website, 100 grams of Flower Sprouts have double the amount of vitamin B6, as well as twice the amount of vitamin C, than regular Brussels sprouts. “Because of its great flavor Flower Sprouts has proven to be a hit with both adults and children, it is also really easy to cook,” the website states. “After a quick rinse Flower Sprouts can be steamed, microwaved, stir fried, boiled, or blanched.” Tozer Seeds’ fact sheet on the Flower Sprout can be found here.
Crop breeding has produced other fruit and vegetable hybrids over the years, such as broccolini — possibly one of the more popular ones, which is a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan, or Chinese broccoli/kale. Broccolini has longer stalks and smaller florets, and was first developed in 1993 by a Japanese company, Sakata Seed Company. Other hybrids include pluots (a combination of plums and apricots), seedless grapes, tangelos (a hybrid of tangerines and grapefruit), tayberries (a cross between blackberries and raspberries), and limequats (a mix of Key lime and kumquat).
Plant Hybrids vs. 'GM' Plants
Hybrids are not the same as genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Hybrid crops are created from two similar parent plants using low-tech breeding methods, in order to make something that contains the best traits of both plants. GMOs are developed in labs, where scientists combine genes from unrelated species. In fact, farmers have been creating hybrids throughout agricultural history, and with the help of both Charles Darwin’s and Gregor Mendel’s scientific work, plant breeding took off in the 1800s and early 1900s. It's more of a natural process that doesn't involve a lot of the controversy surrounding GMOs.
However, both hybrid plants and GM plants boast certain benefits. Hybrid plants like broccolini and BrusselKale claim to have more subtle and refined tastes than the old regular stuff, and since hybridization aims to highlight and enhance the best qualities of each parent, they often have higher nutritional value. GM foods are also created to boost flavor and nutritional value, but they are also made in order to build foods that are more resistant to pests, weeds, and crop diseases.
Advocates of GMOs claim that they could be helpful in battling world hunger, are more sustainable for the environment, and can lead to the lowered use of pesticides and herbicides. However, the debate rolls on as scientists scramble to better study the long-term health effects of GMOs. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine says they can pose a risk in terms of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, as well as metabolic and physiologic health. Others have claimed that they're entirely safe. Hybrid plants, meanwhile, are more natural and don't pose any potential health risks.