Latin name: Brassica oleracea
What is broccoli?
Broccoli is the unopened flower clusters of a plant in the brassica family. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, gai lan, and kohlrabi are all the same species, each one bred over many centuries to favor a particular set of characteristics — just as we’ve taken the wolf and altered it into everything from the chihuahua to the Great Dane.
Why is broccoli healthy?
There’s a reason that broccoli is frequently used as the poster child for healthy vegetables. Its nutritional density and disease-fighting properties make it a star among the famously beneficial brassica family of cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli is packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals, protect cells, and promote detoxification.; Iit is known to help with cancer prevention, heart and bone health, weight management, and digestion.
What does broccoli taste like?
Broccoli brings a healthy amount of cruciferous punch to any party it joins, but broccolini can have a lovely grassy sweetness and tends to be less intense. Sulfur compounds give broccoli that signature mustard-like pungency, and polyphenols give it its slight bitterness. Broccoli rabe, technically another cultivar, has this bitterness turned up a notch, with a slight nuttiness that emerges when cooked in dry heat. The sulfur compounds tend to increase the longer broccoli hangs around your veggie drawer — you’ll know it's been languishing in your fridge when it greets you with the smell of dirty socks.
How do I use broccoli?
It bears repeating that broccoli and cheese (especially cheddar) are best mates. Put them together in rice and pasta dishes (bonus points if you add buttery breadcrumbs on top), on baked potatoes, or on grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza. Stir-frying or steaming for five minutes will brighten the color and preserve both the tender-crisp texture and pungent flavor of the vegetable, but you can also use it raw in sturdy salads, slaws and crudités.
What dos broccoli pair well with?
Broccoli benefits from a bit of acidity and other pungent flavors: grill it or sear it hard in a hot pan and toss with olive oil, garlic, a squeeze of lemon, and a pinch of chile flake. Slender-stemmed broccolini cook very quickly and make a fine stand-in for gai lan with oyster sauce and sesame oil, in the American Chinese classic beef and broccoli, or as a crunchy foil to fried tofu and sesame-miso sauce for the cold Japanese noodle dish hiyashi chuka.
Where does broccoli grow?
Brassica crops culminating in broccoli originated in the Mediterranean, with cultivars coming from Ancient Rome around 2,500 years ago. Italian immigrants spread it around Europe in the 1700s and eventually brought it to North America a century later. Broccoli tends to do poorly in hot weather, but China and India still produce the bulk of the world’s supply (as winter crops), and it’s grown year-round in California.
How to buy broccoli:
You want to see firm stalks and evenly colored florets that aren't yellowing.
Fun broccoli fact:
Broccoli contains nearly twice the amount of protein per calorie as beef.