This is an edible green plant from the cabbage family, whose large flower head is used as a vegetable. The word Broccoli, refers to “the flowering top of a cabbage”, which are usually green in colour and arranged in a tree-like structure on branches sprouting from a thick, edible stalk. The mass of flower heads is surrounded by leaves and resembles cauliflower.
Broccoli is a result of careful breeding of cultivated leafy cole crops in the Northern Mediterranean in about the 6th century BC. Since the Roman Empire, Broccoli has been considered a uniquely valuable food. It was brought to England from Antwerp in the mid-18th century.
Broccoli is high in vitamin C and dietary fibre and contains multiple nutrients with potent anti-cancer properties. A single serving provides more than 30mg of vitamin C and also contains the compound glucoraphanin, which can be processed into an anti-cancer compound sulforaphane. Boiling Broccoli reduces the levels of suspected anti-carcinogenic compounds, but other preparation methods such as steaming, microwaving and stir frying have no significant effect on the compounds. It has the highest levels of carotenoids in the brassica family.
There are three commonly grown types of Broccoli:
The most familiar is Calabrese Broccoli, often referred to simply as Broccoli, which is named after Calabria in Italy. It has large (10-20cm) green heads and thick stalks. It is a cool season annual crop.
Sprouting Broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Purple Cauliflower is a type of Broccoli sold in southern Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. It has a head shaped like cauliflower, but consisting of tiny flower buds. It sometimes, but not always, has a purple cast to the tips of the flower buds.
Broccoli is a cool-weather crop that does poorly in hot summer weather. It grows best when exposed to an average daily temperature between 18 and 23 °C. When the ‘head’ of Broccoli, appear in the centre of the plant, the cluster is green. Garden pruners or shears are used to cut the head about an inch from the tip. Broccoli should be harvested before the flowers on the head bloom bright yellow. While the heading Broccoli variety performs poorly in hot weather, mainly due to insect infestation, the Sprouting Broccoli is more resistant, though attention must be paid to sucking insects such as aphids, caterpillars and whiteflies.
Broccoli is most often boiled or steamed, but may be eaten raw. It can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you cook it by steaming. Raw Broccoli still has cholesterol-lowering ability, but not as much. Broccoli has a strong, positive impact on our body’s detoxification system and may help us solve our vitamin D deficiency epidemic. It has an unusually strong combination of both vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and vitamin K. For people faced with the need to rebuild vitamin D stores through vitamin D supplements, broccoli may be an ideal food to include in the diet.
Overcooked Broccoli becomes soft and mushy, an indication that it has lost both nutrients and flavour. Cut Broccoli florets into quarters and let them stand for several minutes before cooking to enhance its health-promoting benefits. Steam for 5 minutes or add small pieces to stir-fries.