So I got a bunch of what I thought were locally grown organic brussel sprouts from the local coop the other day. They came in an unlabeled zip lock bag, which usually means small local farm. I cooked them with some butter and oregano. I under cooked them a little bit, but I usually prefer them that way. When I ate them, I began to notice that they had a mild chemical taste. It burned in my nose and the back of my mouth a little bit. It was a sensation very similar to the one caused by ammonia or bleach fumes. I hadn't washed them as thoroughly as I perhaps should have (there were black spots on them I hadn't noticed before, but the cooking brought them out).

Do brussel sprouts naturally have some ammonia, or something similar I might have been tasting (and why don't I remember tasting it when I've eaten them in the past)? Did I just down some lovely pesticides and herbicides? Could those black spots have been a fungus that was producing something unpleasant?

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    Were the sprouts kinda yellowish? If so, that combined with the spots is a sign that the outer leaves are dying (and possibly the whole thing) ... it could be any number of things. I normally manage to kill my cabbages through over-watering, but I had a bad issue with cutworms last year, too.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 1, 2011 at 5:50
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    I know you may not remember the exact way they tasted, but there is an important difference between actually feeling a "chemical smell" and only getting a pungent feeling which irritates your mucosa. The second one may be simple hotness; by now, it has been bred out of the big commercial varieties of plants not supposed to be hot, but my grandma's garden often produces vegetables with stronger taste than intended, including hot peppers (of non-chilli varieties) and bitter eggplants and cucumbers. Brussel sprouts are brassica, which are known for pungency (e.g. in mustard, turnips).
    – rumtscho
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 16:31
  • Only if that chemical taste is sulfur.
    – Preston
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 11:41
  • "ammonia like" sounds like mold, which can be really bad news food safety wise... Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 1:27
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    Pedantically, all tastes are chemical tastes... :)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 0:27

5 Answers 5


Brussels sprouts are in the brassica family, so you can get that family of strong cabbagey/spicey/sulfurous flavors and aromas. You probably know what that tastes like though, so I'm assuming it wasn't that. I've seen those black spots plenty of times, and I generally trim them, but I don't think they would be likely to give off a strong aroma. Once I had a situation like this where a vegetable tasted of kerosene, which I assumed was a cross-contamination and dumped it. That's what I would recommend if this ever occurs again. If in doubt, throw it out.

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    +1 for "If in doubt, throw it out". Of course, I'm in the camp that believes Brussels sprouts always taste doubtful, and therefore should always end up in the trash can rather than my plate, but I'm aware that there are people who don't agree... :)
    – Marti
    Commented Dec 31, 2010 at 20:09
  • @Marti - I blanch, then pan-fry the half-cut sprouts with bacon. Makes 'em taste pretty good!
    – sdg
    Commented Jan 1, 2011 at 20:58
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    @sdg- You could pan-fry-in-bacon an old sock and it would taste pretty good. Bacon is magic. Commented Jan 10, 2011 at 16:11
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    @Sobachatina - mmm, sock bacon... :-)
    – sdg
    Commented Jan 10, 2011 at 17:33
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    Wasabi, horseradish, mustard and brussels sprouts are all in the same family. Sometimes you bite into a brussel sprout and you get wolloped by a wasabi flavor you weren't expecting.
    – user50726
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 1:47

I have had a similar experience of strong chemical taste with sprouts. I am a chemical engineer and to me it tasted like kerosene or paint thinner. The sensation came from the back of the mouth not the tongue after I bit into a sprout. It wasn't from packaging as I am used to that taste and how different packaging tastes e.g. I can tell what type of container milk came from, plastic bottles or carton, just by taste. Needless to say if anything tastes strange don't consume it. As another tip, be careful with any "organic" labelled produce. I know from working in government food testing that many organic farmers don't understand or use pesticides correctly. That's right, many organic farmers use pesticides as they want their produce to look good. Strawberries and similar ground plants are notorious for containing extremely high level of chemicals with the highest levels coming from so-called organic farmers.


You should always wash well.

Cut a bit off then end, and You should also peel a few layers away. This gets rid of the black spots, dry leaves, dirt and any pesticides or chemicals. The sprouts you cook should be clean, green and squeaky

Cabbages and such peel well, you can get any chemical pesticides off them easy.


I have a strong suspicion it's not the product but the chemicals in the bag manufacturing process. I came to this thread looking for similar experiences. I have found people complaining of chemical taste transfer from ziplock bags to self prepared sandwiches. In my experience, It's usually from ziplock-type bagged products in the thicker louder noise-making bags. I have returned products because of the strong chemical taste. Sunflower seeds, shelled pistachioes, raisins...anything in direct contact to the packaging. Maybe I have a bionic tongue!


This would be easier to answer if you could be more specific about what you mean by "chemically."

The taste would come from the growth process, it all depends on the levels of chemicals within the sprouts; depending on where they're grown and under what conditions, they will taste slightly different. Albeit that doesn't discount any manufacturing process contributing to the taste, but I highly doubt it. My take is just the level of sulphur compounds within the sprouts - there's no need to panic, sulphur compounds are what give the sprouts their distinctive taste and smell in the first place, so they're completely healthy.

I don't think this is from plastic bags, zip-loc or otherwise; those contribute nothing to the taste.

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    Welcome to Seasoned Advice. I hope you enjoy the site and continue to contribute. As you do, please be aware of our most important guideline - Be Nice. Your answer has merit, but is perhaps a bit less kind than it could be.
    – Jolenealaska
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 15:12
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    Also, I would point out that "chemically" used in this context has a specific meaning that isn't the strictly scientific meaning you're referring to. That is, when people in daily life refer to "chemicals" or call something "chemically" they are referring to artificial food additives, pesticides, and the cleaning chemicals and detergents found in daily life. By referring to the scientific definition of in a case such as this, you are attacking a straw man. You and others who insist on belittling people with valid concerns in this way do yourselves, and science, a serious disservice. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:05
  • (That was in reference to the pre-edit answer posted by user29318. Sorry, that particular straw man is a bit of a pet-peeve of mine.) Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:05

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