Broccoli branches out

March 07, 2000

We have the Italians to thank for broccoli. The name comes from the Italian word brocco, which means branch. Grown in Italy since Roman times, Italian farmers who settled in California found it grew well here, too.

cont. from lifestyle

Today, California produces 90 percent of American broccoli, though it's also grown in almost every state.

Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup, chopped, has more vitamin C than an orange; nearly half the daily recommended vitamin A; a healthy dose of fiber, calcium and iron; and assorted B vitamins, potassium and other minerals. All this for only 45 calories - with negligible fat or sodium.

Like all members of the brassica or cruciferous family, broccoli contains important phytochemicals. One of current interest is sulforaphane, a cancer-preventive agent. Because of its unique cancer-fighting properties, scientists are looking at sulforaphane as a potential treatment. Other members of this family include cauliflower, bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, collards, kale and turnips.


If you already enjoy broccoli and are ready for some variety, you might try other vegetables in this group. All have similar nutritional advantages, are easy to prepare and have a bright, appealing color.


A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this vegetable is shaped like cauliflower but green like broccoli. It can be steamed and is good raw as a dipping vegetable.


A cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, broccolini comes in a bunch of long, slender stalks with small buds. It tastes a bit like asparagus and is good steamed, stir-fried or served cold in salads.

Broccoli rabe or rapini

This broccoli cousin comes in a bunch with thin stems, many leaves and small florets. It has a bitter but interesting flavor, like some greens, and can be steamed, stir-fried or used in salads, soups and stews.

Broccoli sprouts

Loaded with substances that convert into sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts add crunch and flavor to sandwiches and salads.

When buying broccoli, look for dark green flower buds in compact clusters. Avoid limp stalks and enlarged or yellow florets, all signs of overmaturity.

Don't discard the stems and leaves. They are just as nutrient-rich and can be just as tasty as the florets. Only the tough, woody ends need to be cut off and discarded. Because stems take longer to cook, slice them thinly. If serving larger pieces with stem and flower intact, cut gashes into the ends of the stems to speed their cooking.

Cook broccoli with as little water as possible until just tender. Steaming or microwaving helps prevent leaching of vitamins and beneficial plant chemicals. Though broccoli needs little garnish, sprinkle with a tangy vinaigrette of garlic and lemon juice or dash of Parmesan cheese to add a nice finishing touch.

Like the other members of the cabbage family, broccoli contains beta carotenes, which are believed to be anticarcinogenic.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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