Broccoli is a type of cruciferous vegetable that comes from the cabbage family (brassicaceae), which also includes cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. The word broccoli is a plural of the Italian term, broccolo, which means ‘the flowering crest of a cabbage’. Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse, boasting huge amounts of health benefits.
How broccoli was bred into existence
Broccoli is not a naturally occurring vegetable, and cannot be found growing in the wild. It is a manmade vegetable that was bred out of the wild cabbage plant in the northern Mediterranean region around 600BC. The vegetable was cultivated so that it possesses a specific flavour more palatable to the general public than cabbage. This is how broccoli was able to be bred: the wild cabbage plant flowers every second year, and can be made to reproduce itself several times. When a particular wild cabbage plant produces large, tasty buds, farmers try to reproduce from that plant and dispose of less tasty variations of the wild cabbage. As time passed, the plants grew with better tasting and larger buds, becoming the broccoli we know today. Wild cabbage was also used to breed cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, brussels sprouts, and the ordinary cabbages we know today.
Health benefits of broccoli
Broccoli is a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre. One cup of cooked broccoli boasts the same amount of vitamin C as an orange. It also contains beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, iron, zinc, and magnesium. The Vitamin K in broccoli helps to improve absorption of calcium in the body, and as a result, increases overall bone health. On top of all that, broccoli is also an extremely low calorie vegetable.
Broccoli is also said to be used in the prevention of lung and colon cancer. The fibre content helps prevent constipation, maintains a healthy digestive system, and regulates inflammation in the body. Other health benefits of broccoli include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It also contains carotenoid compounds (lutein and zeaxanthin), which decrease eye-related disorders. Antioxidants in the vegetable help to fight skin damage and free radicals, reducing wrinkles and improving the health of skin. The high amount of vitamin C also helps in the formation of collagen, making broccoli great for overall complexion.
Types of broccoli
There are three different types of broccoli:
- Calabrese broccoli – This is the most commonly grown variety, named after the region of Calabria in southern Italy. This type of broccoli – usually just called ‘broccoli’ – is grown in the cool season and has thick stalks and green heads that grow up to 20cm long.
- Sprouting broccoli – This type of broccoli has numerous heads with thinner stalks.
- Purple cauliflower – Despite the name, this is a type of broccoli which is most commonly grown in North America and Europe. The shape of the head is similar to a cauliflower, however it is made up of tiny flowerets which occasionally cast a purple colour on the tips.
How to cook broccoli
Broccoli can be cooked several different ways. Cooking methods include roasting, boiling, steaming, frying, and sautéing. It is best served before it becomes soft and limp, still retaining a crunch. Broccoli can lose some of the benefits of its sulfur-containing glucosinolate compounds when boiled, and so it is not the preferred method of cooking. These compounds are better preserved if broccoli is steamed or stir-fried. The vegetable can also be consumed raw.