BroccoliBroccoli, or often referred to as little mini trees by children, are consumed all over the world. While adults commonly consume broccoli because of its high nutritional value, children often push the vegetable off their plates. Broccoli is considered to be one of the healthiest veggies and it provides many health benefits. These health benefits as well as the history of the vegetable will be explored in this article.


Broccoli is a vegetable which is not limited to one particular cuisine. It is used all over the world and it is known as being one of the cruciferous vegetables. In the classification system of vegetables, cruciferous vegetables are often referred to as brassica vegetables. The Braccicaceae is the scientific name of the family broccoli belongs to. Other vegetables which also belong to this same family include vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. One of the characteristics of these types of vegetables is that they provide a high number of nutrients for little calories. This family of vegetables is also referred to as cabbage family or mustard family since both cabbage and mustard greens belong to this family. Another cruciferous vegetable to which broccoli is closely linked is cauliflower. Not only do both families have a similar shape, but they are often also lumped together in many analyses. One of the most commonly used type of broccoli is called the heading variety of broccoli. Heading in this sense refers to the physical appearance of the vegetable. More specifically, it refers to the flowering portion of the vegetable in one concentrated area. It is also for this reason that we refer to broccoli as small florets. It is because the florets are actually flowers which are not yet in bloom. If the broccoli florets were left to bloom, then they would turn into yellow blossoms. While the majority of broccoli used is head-forming, there are a few types of broccoli which look different. For example, some varieties of the vegetable develop florets throughout the plant at the ends of the shoots. Moreover, some types of broccoli do not develop floret heads and go by the name broccoli rabe, rapini or sprouting broccoli. With regards to the colour of the vegetable, broccoli can vary from having a deep sage colour to having a dark green colour. There are also types of broccoli which have more of a purple and green colour.


While it is not fully clear where the first florets of broccoli were found, it is said that the knowledge that we do have about the vegetable is linked to the origins of cruciferous vegetables in general. The vegetables belonging to the Brassicaceae family are to be found on all continents. The vegetables are particularly diverse and plentiful in Europe. More specifically, most of the vegetables are to be found in the Mediterranean area of Europe. Also, you will also be able to find these vegetables in the western half of North America and the western and central areas of Asia. Research which has been conducted recently suggests that the history of broccoli is linked to its cultivation in Europe. It is said that the vegetable was then transported to North America. Moreover, it is suggested that broccoli actually started off as wild cabbage. Only through centuries of selective planting and agricultural practices did the vegetable actually become the type of broccoli that we enjoy today. Nowadays, broccoli is grown in many different parts of the world. In the United States, for example, more than 90% of the production takes place in the state of California. On a yearly basis, more than 1,8 billion pounds of broccoli are produced. Also, in order to produce this number, more than 115,000 acres of land is used. The consumption of broccoli over the years has increased, so the production of broccoli had to increase as well to meet the demand. The second largest producer of broccoli in the United States is Arizona. While the US is producing a large number of broccoli each year, the country also imports the vegetables. The main country from which they import broccoli is Mexico.

Fighting cancer

Broccoli has been linked to various health benefits. One of these health benefits is the fact that it could play a role in fighting cancer. Researchers have suggested that eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables is linked to a lower risk of cancer. More specifically, it is linked to a lower risk of colon cancer and lung cancer. Studies have concluded that sulforaphane, which is to be found in cruciferous vegetables is the specific compound which is responsible for this lower risk. This sulphur-containing compound which also gives the vegetables a bitter flavour also has the ability to fight cancer cells. Researchers have found that this specific compound inhibits the enzyme called histone deacetylase. This enzyme is said to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. This enzyme, also known as HDAC, can potentially be stopped from growing by sulforaphane. This suggests that foods which contain sulforaphane could play a role in cancer treatment in the future. Currently, the compound is being studied for its ability to impede cancer. So far, positive results have been shown for pancreatic, prostate and melanoma cancers. However, in order for these results to be confirmed, more research needs to be conducted. Other vegetables which are being studies for similar purposes are cabbage, cauliflower, kale and turnips. Another important vitamin in broccoli is folate. Folate has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. Moreover, folate has also been shown to provide protection against various forms of cancer. These forms include stomach, pancreatic, colon and cervical cancers. It is suggested that the benefits provided by folate are most likely related to its role in DNA and RNA production, and its ability to prevent unwanted mutations. However, so far no evidence has been provided that folate supplements provide the same anti-cancer benefits.

Antioxidant benefits

Another benefit of broccoli is that is provided antioxidant benefits. There are various specific compounds which contribute to the antioxidant benefits provided by the vegetable. For example, different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients all contribute to the benefits the vegetable provides. Therefore, broccoli can be considered to be a primary example of a vegetable which provides different types of antioxidants. With regards to the vitamin level to be found in the vegetable, broccoli is considered to be one of the best sources of vitamin C. Moreover, the vegetable also has a high level of vitamin E and vitamin A. The vegetable contains vitamin A in the form of carotenoids. Besides the fact that it is a rich source of vitamins, it also contains chromium, manganese, selenium and zinc. However, the one compound in which the vegetable stands out from other vegetables is the fact that it contains high concentrations of phytonutrients. The key compounds which are responsible for the antioxidant effect are kaempferol, quercetin, lutein and beta-carotene. With regards to beta-carotene and lutein, is it not only the case that these nutrients provide antioxidants, but they also increase blood levels when they are consumed on a regular basis. Broccoli sprouts are also known for providing antioxidants. This specific type of broccoli has become interesting for researchers since the vegetable contains concentrated amounts of glucosinolates. However, the vegetable is not consumed as much as regular broccoli. 

How to incorporate more broccoli into your diet

Broccoli is a very versatile vegetable and can be used in various recipes. The floret heads, leaves and stalks of the vegetable are edible. Broccoli which is tender and young can be cut in small broccoli heads and be eaten raw. You might also add them to a salad to give a salad more texture. Another common use of the florets is in stir-fries. You can add the vegetable to other vegetables, or you can stir-fry it in combination with prawns, beef or chicken. Moreover, it is also possible to stir-fry the vegetable by itself. This is combination with pepper, oil and garlic will also provide you with a great side-dish. The recommended way of cooking broccoli is to steam the vegetable. In this way the nutrients are not lost and the vegetable stays intact. When the vegetable is boiled, cooked of microwaved, studies have shown that sensitive vitamins are destroyed by the heat. This is particularly the case for nutrients such as folate and vitamin C. Thus, steaming and gentle braising do not alter the composition of these compounds.

How to select and store

Most supermarkets sell broccoli. If you want a more specific type of broccoli, such as broccoli sprouts, you might not be able to find this in your local supermarket. However, a local vegetable store might sell this product. There are a few things you should pay attention to when you are buying broccoli. For example, when buying broccoli make sure that the florets are compact and do not show any bruises. Also, the vegetable should have a uniform colour. This means that is should either be entirely dark green, or purple green. A mix of colours indicates that the vegetable will not last for a longer period of time. Moreover, the vegetable should not have any yellow blossoming. If you see that the vegetables is starting to become yellow, this is a sign of over maturity. With regards to the stalk and the stems, these should not only be firm but they should also have no slimy spots. Often it is also the case that the leaves are still attached to the vegetable. When this is the case, make sure that the leaves are still vibrant in colour. When storing broccoli, it is recommended to place it in a plastic bag. Make sure that you remove as much air from the bag as possible. If you store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, the vegetable will be able to last up to 10 days. Do not wash the vegetable before storing it in the refrigerator. This is due to the fact that exposure to water could encourage spoilage. If you have removed the heads from the stem, place these in a sealed container or a plastic bag and store these in the refrigerator as well. The reason why it is recommended not to cut broccoli before storing it in the refrigerator is because nutrients get lost when the vegetable is cut. Moreover, broccoli which has been blanched can be stored in the freezer to up to one year. Also, if you want to store leftover cooked broccoli, place it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. You will be able to store it for a couple of days.


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 410x
Added: 25-01-2017 17:18
Last modified: 23-03-2017 10:47

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