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Broccoli at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Medical Benefits Recipe
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation

Looking for a vitamin C fix? Make a beeline for the broccoli. Are your potassium stores low? Partner up with broccoli. Is fiber on your shopping list? Bring home the broccoli. Need an iron boost? Look no further than broccoli.

Though we presently recognize broccoli's many attributes and relish it for its lusty flavor, it was a hard sell in the ancient world. It was so obscure, in fact, that food historians find little written mention of its early beginnings.

It wasn't until the 20th century that broccoli was appreciated in the United States for its culinary attributes, and, more recently, for its exceptional health benefits. Centuries earlier, broccoli made frequent appearances on the dinner plates of the Roman Empire.

Broccoli Ancient Beginnings
We usually associate the Etruscans with Italy, but these people, originally called the Rasenna, came from Asia Minor, now Turkey. It was in this region that the Rasenna began cultivating cabbages, the precursors to broccoli. These cruciferous vegetables were also grown along the Eastern Mediterranean. During the 8th century BCE, the Rasenna began their migration to Italy.

The ancient Rasenna actively traded with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians. No doubt their broccoli cultivation spread throughout the region and eventually reached Rome when they settled in what is now known as Tuscany. It was the Romans who called these immigrants "Tusci" or "Etrusci" and referred to ancient Tuscany as Etruria.

The Romans were enamored with broccoli almost immediately. Pliny the Elder, an Italian naturalist and writer, 23 to 79 CE, tells us the Romans grew and enjoyed broccoli during the first century CE. The vegetable became a standard favorite in Rome where the variety called Calabrese was developed. The Calabrese is the most common variety still eaten in the United States today. Before the Calabrese variety was cultivated, most Romans were eating purple sprouting broccoli that turned green when cooked.

Apicius, the beloved cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then bruising it "with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine."

Long before the modern European cooks were serving broccoli with rich sauces, the Romans were presenting this vegetable with all sorts of creamy sauces, some cooked with wine, others flavored with herbs.

Roman Emperor Tiberius, 14 BCE to 37 BCE, had a son named Drusius who took his love of broccoli to excess. Excluding all other foods, he gorged on broccoli prepared in the Apician manner for an entire month. When his urine turned bright green and his father scolded him severely for "living precariously," Drusius finally abandoned his beloved broccoli.

Broccoli Visits Europe
Catherine de Medici of Tuscany may have been the first to introduce broccoli to France when she married Henry II in 1533, but the first mention of brocoli in French history is in 1560. Catherine arrived in France with her Italian chefs and armfuls of vegetables, including broccoli.

Miller's Gardener's Dictionary, in its 1724 edition, gave one of the earliest accounts of broccoli in the United Kingdom, referring to it as a stranger in England and calling it "sprout colli-flower" or "Italian asparagus." This account assumes that broccoli came from Italy.

When broccoli arrived in England in the early 18th century, no one spread the welcome mat. In fact, the English were soon turning their noses up. The French, too, had little enthusiasm for broccoli.

In 1883, Vilmorin, a French horticulturist, theorized that broccoli developed before cauliflower. He believed that when the ancient farmers were cultivating cabbages, they experimented with trying to develop the shoots rather than the tightly compacted heads. The result was the beginnings of broccoli cultivation that later lead to development of the highly prized white heads of cauliflower.

Broccoli Comes to America
Thomas Jefferson, often called the farmer president, was an avid gardener and collector of new seeds and plants of fruits and vegetables to arrive in the United States. In 1766 he began keeping detailed notes in his garden book of any seeds or seedlings planted in his extensive garden at Montecello, his home near Charlottesville, Virginia. He recorded his planting of broccoli, along with radishes, lettuce, and cauliflower on May 27, 1767.

As early as 1775, broccoli was described in A Treatise on Gardening by a Citizen of Virginia by John Randolph who writes, "The stems will eat like Asparagus, and the heads like Cauliflower." Despite this encouraging description of broccoli, the poor vegetable received nothing more than indifference in the United States.

The one exception was the early Italian immigrants who grew broccoli in their backyard gardens and frequently enjoyed this green treasure at the family table.

Although broccoli entered the United States more than 200 years ago, it was not adopted into popular circles until the D'Arrigo brothers, Stephano and Andrea, immigrants from Messina, Italy, came to the United States along with their broccoli seeds. The D'Arrigo Brothers Company began with some trial plantings in San Jose, California in 1922. After harvesting their first crop, they shipped a few crates to Boston.

Meeting with success, they went on to establish their burgeoning broccoli business with the brand name Andy Boy, named after Stephano's two-year-old son, Andrew. They advertised by supporting a radio program and featured ads for broccoli on the station. By the 1930s the country was having a love affair with broccoli. People were convinced that broccoli was a newly developed plant.

Though some folks devoured broccoli enthusiastically, many gave it a definitive thumbs down. The New Yorker magazine once published a cartoon some time between 1925 and 1930 of a desperate mother trying to convince her child to eat broccoli. The cartoonist was E.B. White who preferred to be anonymous. The caption read as follows:

"It's broccoli, dear."
"I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."

Throughout history, mention of broccoli seems to drop out of the historical accounts for long periods of time, indicating that it was so unpopular that it was simply not in use during those times. Broccoli

The Naming of Broccoli
It's not uncommon for horticulturists to bestow names upon newly developed fruits or vegetables that describe their appearance or their attributes. Broccoli has many strong branches or arms that grow from the main stem, each one sprouting a sturdy budding cluster surrounded by leaves. It was only fitting that the name broccoli came from the Latin bracchium, which means strong arm or branch.

Roman farmers called broccoli "the five green fingers of Jupiter."

In late 16th century England our familiar head of cabbage was called " cabbage," while the entire plant was called cabbage-cole, cole or colewort. To confuse matters further, broccoli and cauliflower were also called colewort.

Throughout its travels during 17th century Europe, broccoli was often confused with cauliflower as well as cabbage, the names often used interchangeably. It was even called broccoli cabbage or Calabrian cabbage.

Broccoli is in the Brassicaceae family and is classified as Brassica oleracea italica belonging to a family whose other members include cauliflower, kale, cabbage, collards, turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, and Chinese cabbage.

The Brassica vegetables all share a common feature. Their four-petaled flowers bear the resemblance to a Greek cross, which explains why they are frequently referred to as crucifers or cruciferous.

Though the public can easily distinguish broccoli from cauliflower, botanists have difficulty with classification. Both broccoli and cauliflower are akin to the cabbage family. These members develop flower buds that remain in the bud form and do not open. The buds of the cauliflower grow in a tightly clustered manner, while broccoli buds are more definitive and separate from each other.

There are three main types of broccoli, sprouting, calabrese, and romanesco. Calabrese is most familiar because of its large heading portion and thick stalks. Calabrese is what most farmers grow and bring to market. This variety was developed in Calabria, a province in Italy, and is planted in the spring for harvesting in summer.

The sprouting broccoli has smaller flowering heads and many thinner stalks. This type is planted in April and May for harvesting the following winter and spring. Some may be harvested in December.

The romanesco reaches maturity in the fall and is distinguished by its yellowish-green multiple heads.

Though most commercial markets sell only green broccoli, there are cultivars that produce purple and white broccoli. These are more common in Italy and so closely resemble cauliflower in appearance they are easily confused.

With selective cultivation over the centuries, farmers were able to develop broccoli varieties with larger and larger budding heads. In this way they were able to create cultivars that were lighter and lighter in color, until eventually the result was cauliflower.

In recent years, horticulturists have developed the broccoflower, a hybrid combination of broccoli and cauliflower that looks more like cauliflower with a yellow-green color and a flavor that resembles both its parents.

Broccoli When broccoli is left on the plant too long, its sugars develop into a type of fiber called lignin, creating stems that will be tough no matter how long the cooking process.

Broccoli rabe is native to the Mediterranean region. It is also called Italian broccoli, di rape, rapini, broccoli raab, Chinese broccoli, and Gai Lon. Another member of the cruciferous family, this variety of broccoli is recognized by its thin stems, tiny budding heads, and abundant leaves with jagged edges. Though it's equally as nutritious as our familiar broccoli, its flavor is more pungent and slightly bitter.

Once a wild herb, broccoli rabe is now cultivated in the Italian provinces of Campania and Puglia as well as in the United States.

Ninety percent of the broccoli grown in the US comes from California's Salinas Valley in North and Santa Maria in the Central region of the state. Other states that grow broccoli include Arizona, Texas, Florida, Washington, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, and both North and South Carolina.

Broccoli prefers a cool climate, between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and moist soil to mature in 100 to 120 days. It does not tolerate frost.

Nutritional Benefits
Broccoli is the superhero of the vegetable kingdom with its rich vitamin A content--notice broccoli's dark green color as an indicator of its hearty carotene content. Though a bit on the bitter side, broccoli leaves are completely edible and also contain generous amounts of vitamin A.

With one half-cup of cooked broccoli providing 1083 IU of vitamin A and raw offering 678 IU, this veggie should make a frequent appearance at your dinner table. Folic acid is also abundant with one-half cup cooked registering 39 mcg and raw 31.2 mcg.

Broccoli offers 71.8 mg of calcium for a whole cup of cooked, as much calcium as 4 oz. of milk. That cup of raw contains 42.2 mg.

A cup of broccoli gives you 10% of your daily iron requirement, and the vitamin C content helps the body to absorb the iron.

One cup of cooked broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, and one third of a pound has more vitamin C than two and one-half pounds of oranges. A serving of one-half cup cooked broccoli offers 58.2 mg while the raw stores 41 mg. A cup of broccoli actually fulfills your daily vitamin C requirement

If you're a calorie counter, count broccoli in with only 22 calories for one-half cup chopped and boiled and 12 calories for one-half cup raw chopped.

Though this exceptional vegetable is not a powerhouse of protein, it does contain 2 grams for one-half cup boiled, and 1 gram for the same quantity of raw. These same figures apply to fiber as well with 2 grams, for the boiled and 1 gram for the raw broccoli.

Across the nutrition scale, broccoli contains all the nutrients mentioned above in addition to vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

It is important to note that though the figures listed for raw broccoli seem lower, it is not because raw broccoli is inferior to cooked. Because raw broccoli contains more bulk or volume than the cooked, one must eat more to equal the figures for cooked. Cooking breaks down the volume of broccoli, making it easier to consume larger quantities.

Frozen broccoli contains about 35% more beta carotene than the fresh because the frozen packages consist mainly of the florets. Most of the beta carotene is stored in the florets. But don't jump too quickly. There's plenty of nutrition in those stems, such as extra calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.

The darker colors of the florets, such as blue green, or purplish green contain more beta carotene and vitamin C than those with lighter greens.

Medicinal Benefits
Though definitive proof is not yet published, the National Cancer Institute suggests that broccoli, along with its cruciferous family members, may be important in the prevention of some types of cancer.

Because of its impressive nutritional profile that includes beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, fiber, and phytochemicals, specifically indoles and aromatic isothiocynates, broccoli and its kin may be responsible for boosting certain enzymes that help to detoxify the body. These enzymes help to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.

Broccoli along with onions, carrots, and cabbage may also help to lower blood cholesterol. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture's regional research center in Philadelphia, two researchers, Dr. Peter Hoagland and Dr. Philip Pfeffer, discovered these vegetables contain a certain pectin fiber called calcium pectate that binds to bile acids, holding more cholesterol in the liver and releasing less into the bloodstream. They found broccoli equally as effective as some cholesterol lowering drugs.

Broccoli's wealth of the trace mineral, chromium, may be effective in preventing adult-onset diabetes in some people. At the Beltsville, Maryland, Human Research Laboratories of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Richard Anderson, a diabetes expert, found that chromium boosts the ability of insulin to perform better in people with slight glucose intolerance.

Though broccoli is available year round, its peak season is from October to April. Prices may be higher in July and August when broccoli is less productive.

Look for compact crowns that have dark green, blue-green, or the purplish-green, tightly closed buds with dark green leaves that are strong and upright. Intense colors are a good indicator of hearty nutritional content. Yellow or yellowish-green broccoli heads and leaves indicate the vegetable is not fresh and has lost nutrients. Pass on the limp stalks and choose only sturdy, crisp, bright green stems.

Look carefully at the cut ends of the broccoli stalks and choose those that are completely closed. The stalks that have open cores on the bottom tend to be older, woodier, and tougher.

Allow 1/2 pound per serving. A medium bunch, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, will serve 3 to 4 people.

Wrap your broccoli in a plastic bag or plastic wrap and refrigerate as soon after purchase as possible. Though this vegetable is a great keeper and will still look good several days later, it's best if used within three days after purchase.

Refrigeration is a good way to protect broccoli's nutrients, especially the vitamin C, which is easily lost if not kept cold. Quite often, broccoli is shipped to market in boxes packed with ice.

Another storage suggestion, though uncommon, is to submerge the stem portions of an entire bunch of broccoli into a wide-mouthed pitcher filled with ice water. Cover the broccoli crowns loosely with a plastic bag, and change the ice water daily. This unique method will keep the bunch fresh and crisp for a whole week.

Never wash broccoli before storing in the refrigerator. The excess moisture promotes mold.

Raab Preparation
For the best flavor and nutritional benefit, cook broccoli soon after purchase. Any vegetable that sits around for a week, even if refrigerated, will lose considerable vitamin value along with flavor.

Wash broccoli thoroughly just before using. Trim tough portion of the stem about one inch from the bottom. How you cut the broccoli prior to cooking is a matter of preference and the nature of the dish you are planning.

For salads and stir-fries, cut the broccoli into bite size pieces. Include the stems, too. Many classic cookbooks will direct the cook to discard the leaves and peel the stems, but think of all the nutrients and fiber you would lose. Keep those stems in tact, and simply chop them or cut them into julienne strips to take advantage of their valuable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Chop or dice broccoli florets and stems into your salad bowl along with crisp romaine lettuce and an array of fresh vegetables.

Enjoy a broccoli slaw by shredding the stems on a coarse grater or the shredding disc of your food processor. Combine with shredded carrots and other veggies of your choice, add a little extra virgin olive oil, some lemon or lime juice, and season to taste.

Add broccoli to a blended raw soup preparation for a vitamin C boost.

Toss chopped broccoli, stems and all, into a blended green drink with water, kale, celery, and cucumber, and sweeten with a chopped apple.

Feature broccoli as the centerpiece of your own original salad with vegetables of different textures and colors.

Broccoli makes a dramatic sauce when combined in a blender with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, vegetable juices of your choice, and your favorite seasonings.

Include broccoli florets in your crudite platter as an appetizer, and serve along with your favorite dip.

Cut broccoli into florets and steam in a covered saucepan with a small amount of water for 4 to 5 minutes.

For a different look, you can cut the broccoli into trees by keeping the stems intact and simply cutting lengthwise through stems and flowering portion. Cook until just tender, taking care not to overcook or you'll lose those precious nutrients. Color can be your guide. At the just tender point, the broccoli will retain its brilliant green color and actually increase in nutrient value. However, when the broccoli turns to a dark olive green color, its nutritional density has been considerably diminished.

An alternative steaming method is to lift the cover several times during cooking to release steam, thus preserving the bright color of the broccoli.

If you choose to steam an entire stalk of broccoli, rather than cutting it into smaller servings, you might consider cutting through the stalks about half-way up the stem. This method will produce stems that cook tender in the same length of time as the florets.

If the broccoli is fresh, it should have a delicate and pleasing sweetness without any seasoning at all. When broccoli is lacking flavor, you can assume two things -- either it is not fresh or it has been grown in depleted soil, soil that is lacking in minerals. Sprinkle with lemon juice and a touch of extra virgin olive oil to bring up the flavor if needed.

Take care not to overcook broccoli or your kitchen will be engulfed with the odor of rotten eggs from the sulphur compounds that include ammonia and hydrogen sulfide released with long cooking.

Broccoli raab cooks more quickly because of its thinner stalks. Time carefully to avoid overcooking. Cooking this vegetable directly in a small amount of water may help to diminish its bitterness rather than steaming above the water. Cook no longer than 3 to 5 minutes.

Chop broccoli into bite-size florets and stir-fry in a small amount of olive oil, about 1 teaspoon, combined with water or vegetable broth. Flavor with Bragg Liquid Aminos or tamari, lemon or lime juice, a touch of your favorite vinegar, and finish with seasonings and herbs of your choice.

For an Asian touch, add a tablespoon or two of sesame oil to the stir fry and sprinkle natural sesame seeds over broccoli as a garnish.

Though it may be an unfamiliar way to prepare broccoli, you can create an outstanding sauce with visual appeal. Simply put steamed broccoli into the blender or food processor along with vegetable broth, a little olive oil, and seasonings to create a delicious sauce over brown rice, baked potatoes, polenta, or even pasta.

If you plan to add broccoli to a vegetable soup, cut the stems and florets into bite-sized pieces and add during the last few minutes of cooking.

BOILING We do not recommend boiling broccoli. Too many nutrients are lost in the pot of water.

Here's a sauce that is not for the faint-hearted or for those timid souls who shy away from garlic -- it definitely has a punch. If the quantity of raw garlic is a bit too lively for your taste, you can easily reduce the quantity to one or two cloves. This truly all-purpose sauce is delicious as a topping over all grain dishes, polenta, pasta, and baked potatoes.


    1 large bunch fresh broccoli

    2 to 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
    1/3 C. (79 ml) extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/4 t. salt or to taste
    1 T. + 2 t. lemon juice
    1 C. (237 ml) water

  1. Trim off and discard bottom inch of broccoli stems and cut broccoli into large chunks.
  2. Put them into a 4-quart (4 liter) saucepan with a steamer insert* and steam 4 to 5 minutes or until just tender. Transfer broccoli to the work bowl of a food processor.
  3. Start with 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, add remaining ingredients to food processor, and process until pureed. Adjust seasonings for varied size of broccoli, and add more garlic to taste.
  4. If desired, turn out into a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan, and warm over medium heat for about 3 minutes to tame the garlic just a bit. This makes a very thick sauce that can be thinned with water if preferred. Adjust seasonings accordingly. Makes 6 servings.

*If steamer insert is not available, put broccoli into a 4-quart (4 liter) saucepan with about 1/2" (1 cm) of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and steam about 4 to 5 minutes.

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