Popular Varieties: Calabrese
Store At: Below 10°C, Broccoli must be refrigerated to retain its firmness and nutrients such as Vitamin C.
Comes From: Temperate countries, Broccoli is a cool weather crop
Seasonality: All year round
Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, also known as brassicas. This group includes sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages and many more. Two common varieties are calabrese (your typical green broccoli) and purple sprouting broccoli, whose heads are much looser sprouts and purple as the name suggests.
Broccoli heads are very similar to cauliflower heads, except they are green instead of white and not called curds. The heads, or florets, are made up of tightly packed flower buds, grouped together like trees on a stalk.
Broccoli is best grown in temperate regions; it's a cool weather crop, and does not take well to hot environments; when it is picked, it is often packed straight into ice in the fields to preserve its freshness, because broccoli loses moisture extremely fast when picked and looses much of its' firmness. When buying broccoli, go for the loose rather than pre-packed - it's cheaper, and you can check the quality easily; just hold it by the stem and shake it from side to side. If the florets stay firm and together - buy it. If they move apart and are all floppy, find another.
While broccoli is usually cooked, often by boiling or steaming, it can also be eaten raw, and is high in Vitamin C and fibre. It also contains an anti-cancer compound called sulforaphane. Sulphoramone has been proven to trigger the production of "Phase II enzymes", which are amongt the most strong anti-cancer chemicals known to man. Purple sprouting broccoli in particular also contains anthocyanins, anti-cancer compounds. Broccoli was traditionally not a popular fruit; this is quite disappointing since it is so full of goodness; it also contains lots of iron and potassium.
Finally, it is also thought that broccoli may play a large part in lowering blood cholesterol. Broccoli contains a certain fibre only found in a few vegetables, called calcium pectate. This fibre binds to bile acids (produced by the gall bladder), which causes more cholesterol to be held in the liver and less to be released into the bloodstream. Also, broccoli contains a trace mineral called chromium (not related to alloy wheels), which can boost the performance of insulin and help prevent adult-onset diabetes in some people.
The history of broccoli is hard to pin down; we believe it was first grown by the Etruscans (who eventually migrated to Italy) around 1000BC. These people originally came from Asia Minor (now Turkey), and commonly traded with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians, which gradually spread broccoli throughout Europe. The Etruscans gradually moved into Italy and settled in the region now known as Tuscany.
It is known for sure that the Romans grew Broccoli; an Italian writer called Pliny the Elder wrote about Broccoli around 50AD, noting how the Romans enjoyed growing broccoli in the first century. Indeed, the most common variety today, Calabrese, was developed around this time in Rome. Before then, it was mostly the purple sprouting variety that was typically eaten.
Broccoli was first brought to France in the 1500s, probably by Catherine de Meduci of Tuscany when she married Henry II. Coming from an Italian family, it is likely she brought her chefs and along with them, the vegetables they were used to cooking with in their homeland.
Broccoli didn't come to England until the 1700s; in 1724, in Miller's Gardeners Dictionary it was thought of as a stranger to England, and called sprout colli-flower or Italian Asparagus. The English (and the French) had no love for broccoli when it was first introduced.
It is likely that Broccoli was first introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson. A former president, he was an enthusiastic gardener, and introduced many crops to America by first growing them in his own garden, in the mid 1700s. Broccoli once again was not popular with the natives, and remained like that until it became popular with Italian immigrants.
Two of these immigrants, the D'Arrigo brothers, spearheaded broccolis uptake in the 1920s, growing it in California and shipping it all over the states, using newly popular radio as advertising. From then, it became especially popular, and is in the top five vegetables eaten in the United States these days.
Broccoli is usually steamed or boiled, but it can be eaten raw. As with many vegetables, the general rule is the longer you cook it for, the more nutrients you cook out of the food. However, unlike some vegetables, because when it is cooked broccoli breaks down somewhat in volume, for example a cup of cooked broccoli is roughly twice the amount of a cup of raw broccoli; therefore it is much easier to eat more cooked than raw, and even with the nutrient loss, you still end up with a higher nutrient intake.
Broccoli can also be stir-fried, made into sauce or added to soups.
Directly related to cooking or eating is the nutritional and health value of broccoli - see above.
There are different types of broccoli available, so it\'s important to read the instructions for the specific one you plan to grow. Crop rotation is a must; cabbages must not be grown on the same ground two years running because it increases the risk of club root which once in the soil can render the ground useless for nearly a decade.
Calabrese, green broccoli, can be grown outside in early May, or started under cover in early April. Purple and white varieties can be started at different times, depending on whether they are early or late varieties, ranging from mid April to mid May.
Seed should be sown about half an inch deep, and will germinate in 7-10 days. Calabrese dislikes root disturbance, so if possible plant them in individual pots, or be careful when you are potting them on.
Broccoli is very easy to grow; they should be kept well watered in dry weather, especially important when the heads are forming.
Broccoli heads should be picked before the flowers open. When the main head is cut, the plants will very often develop smaller heads on side shoots. To harvest calabrese, snap or cut the heads at the top of the stalk. Sprouting broccoli should be cut off half way down the stalk.
Broccoli is not fussy about where it grows; it prefers to be in full sun but will grow in conditions of partial shade. The soil should not be heavy since it dislikes waterlogging, and the ground should be rich in nutrients.
- Broccoli Questions and Answers
- Broccoli is a superfood
- Broccoli on Wikipedia
- Broccoli at a glance
The most common type of broccoli is not actually broccoli, its proper name is calabrese, but it’s called broccoli none the less. Many varieties of broccoli exist, including Green Comet. Broccoli itself is available in purple sprouting types, but also red and white sprouting types are available.
Romanesco varieties are curious; instead of the usual random sprouts, an almost geometric head of coned florets is produced, almost too much like a work of art to eat! Romanesco varieties can be eaten raw retaining even more of the nutrients present. These varieties are late summer producers, cropping until early frosts.
A purple sprouting variety, Bordeaux has an abundance of good quality purple spears from summer to autumn, producing bumper crops.
The first hybrid sprouting variety created in the UK, a large crop of red spears is produced from vigorous plants. A mid season variety, it is harvested from April to May.
Green Comet is one of the most popular varieties of traditional calabrese. It is a quick maturing hybrid.
A relatively new variety, Redhead produces vigorous plants with large primary heads, along with good sized secondary heads. It is an early variety, producing spears from March through April.