Broccoli was developed from the wild cabbage in the 17th Century in Italy, from where it spread through the rest of Europe. It is also known as sprouting broccoli or purple sprouting broccoli. Calabrese (Italian sprouting broccoli) and Romanesco (Roman broccoli) are closely related, but in the kitchen they are considered separately because they grow at a different time of year and are cultivated in a slightly different way. In the past, broccoli was referred to as winter cauliflower, some areas may still.
It is the flower shoots of broccoli that are gathered and eaten, just as the buds are forming and before the yellow of the opening flowers is seen. The flower-heads appear both at the top of the plant and as a side shoot. In most varieties the flower-buds are purple, hence the name purple sprouting, but there are also creamy-white varieties, on which the flower-buds appear like miniature cauliflower. The purple varieties are generally considered to be the hardier form. There is one variety, “Nine Star Perennial,” which as its name suggests is perennial in habit. If all the heads are picked each year it should last up to about five years, producing white heads each year.
In addition to the flower-heads, the stalk just below the buds and their associated leaves can also be eaten. Even more of the stalk can be eaten if the tough outside is first removed.
The harvesting period for broccoli varies slightly, but it fills the “hungry” gap between late winter – ‘Rudolph’ is one of the earliest varieties, and mid-spring, when fresh vegetables are at a premium.
Moms tell kids to eat their broccoli for a reason — this vegetable really packs a nutritional punch. It is filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals and also provides a number of phytochemicals that can decrease your risk for health problems like heart disease and cancer. However, how you prepare broccoli can affect its nutrient content and thus its disease-fighting ability.
Broccoli can help you maintain a healthy weight. Each cup of cooked broccoli contains 5.1 grams of fiber, along with 0.6 grams of fat and 3.7 grams of protein but only 55 calories. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, a single serving of broccoli gives you a whopping 275 percent of your body’s daily requirement — or daily value — for vitamin K and 169 percent of the daily value for vitamin C. It also provides 48 percent of your body’s need for vitamin A, 42 percent for folate and more than 10 percent of the daily values for vitamins B-6 and E.
Preliminary research suggests that certain phytochemicals in broccoli may help prevent cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. An article published in “Phytochemistry Reviews” in January 2009 noted that phytochemicals in broccoli, including indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane, may help lower your risk for heart disease, breast cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. Broccoli is also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds may limit macular degeneration, cataracts and cancer risk, according to an article in the December 2004 issue of “Journal of the American College of Nutrition.” While there is no recommended dietary allowance for these phytochemicals, some experts recommend consuming 6 milligrams per day, according to the website All About Vision.
Eat your broccoli raw or steamed to get the most nutrients. Boiling and frying causes broccoli to lose nutrients, including vitamin C and some phytochemicals, noted a study published in the “Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B” in August 2009. Steaming limits the loss of nutrients since it doesn’t involve immersing the broccoli in water or cooking it at very high heat.