Broccoli is a plant in the cabbage family, whose large flower head is what we know as this familiar vegetable, often found on a vegetable snack tray at parties right close to the Ranch dressing. But, broccoli has so much more to offer. That's why broccoli is a favorite vegetable worldwide. Let's take a look at this flowering veggie that looks like a tiny tree. You might just be surprised at where it was first discovered.
1. What is it?
The word broccoli stems (pun intended) from the Italian plural of broccolo which means "the flowering top of a cabbage." Broccoli has large flower heads, usually green in color, resembling a tree with branches sprouting from a thick edible stalk, or stem. Broccoli most closely resembles cauliflower, which is a different variety from the same species. The cooking aroma of broccoli is most often referred to as 'cabbage like.'
The broccoli we know and love today evolved from a wild cabbage plant somewhere in Europe. That solves the 'cabbage like' aroma mystery. The earliest documentation of the small green, edible tree was discovered to be about 2,000 years ago. Since the rule of Rome, broccoli has been considered a uniquely valuable food among Italians. Broccoli was first introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants but did not become widely known until the 1920s.
3. Health Benefits
Broccoli is high in vitamin C and fiber. It also contains multiple nutrients with potent cancer-fighting nutrients, such as diindolylmethane and small amounts of selenium. A single serving provides more than 30mg of Vitamin C and a half-cup (about the equivalent ingested at any given office party or potluck) provides nearly double that. Broccoli also contains the compound glucoraphanin, which can be processed into the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane.
The benefits of broccoli are believed to be greatly reduced if the vegetable is boiled, but it still remains an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients which boost DNA repairs in cells. Broccoli has one of the highest levels of carotenoids and is particularly rich in lutein and beta-carotene.
A high intake of broccoli has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer and heart disease. A compound found in broccoli appears to have more effectiveness than modern antibiotics against the creation of peptic ulcer causing bacteria. Broccoli is one veggie everyone needs in their diet.
4. Fun Facts
The word broccoli comes from the Latin word brachium and the Italian word braccio, which means 'arm.' Broccoli comes in a variety of colors, ranging from deep sage all the way to dark green and purplish-green. The world record for eating broccoli is held by Tom Landers who devoured 1 pound of broccoli in 92 seconds. The tree-like shape makes this healthy veggie a popular fun food for kids. Dip a forest of broccoli trees in Ranch style dressing 'snow' and watch the kids gobble them up like hungry giants.
5. How to eat
Broccoli is usually boiled or steamed in the American culture, but has become a popular raw vegetable to accompany creamy dips (you can make creamy dips with a hand blender such as the Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick Hand Blender.) Boiling reduces the levels of anti-cancer compounds in broccoli, with losses of 20% to 30% after five minutes, 40% to 50% after ten minutes, and a whopping 77% after thirty minutes. Steaming broccoli for a maximum time of 3 to 4 minutes is recommended to maximize potential anti-cancer compounds.
Adding broccoli to a stir fry dish helps retain a majority of the beneficial properties, rather than letting the nutrients wash away in the boiling water. Another method of cooking that's getting more popular is oven roasting. Simply spread broccoli florets (that's the top cut into tiny bush-like shapes) and diced stem pieces on a baking sheet, coat with cooking oil, and put in oven to roast. You'll have a lightly toasted broccoli dish that's almost nutty in flavor, plus the nutrients didn't get washed down the drain.
You can enjoy raw broccoli in many popular salads, such as the classic Broccoli Raisin Bacon Salad you find at many potlucks. Toss tiny raw broccoli florets in with a big green lettuce salad for a crunchy nutrition boost. Broccoli Slaw is a relatively new idea for serving broccoli. Just peel the stalk to remove all the woody fibers, then cut the light green inside into very thin strips. You can toss these with cabbage and carrots for a slaw, or just eat as is for a snack.
Another popular dish to serve broccoli in a main dish is Chicken Divan. This classic dish features whole broccoli spears underneath a creamy, cheesy layer of chicken. Then, there is the classic Broccoli Cheese Soup (you can use a hand blender such as the Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick Hand Blender to make a very smooth soup.) I could go on and on talking about this nutrient-dense delicious veggie and all the tasty dishes you can make with broccoli.
Eat broccoli raw whenever you can for the ultimate health food. When you do cook broccoli, keep your cooking time short if you're steaming it. Better yet, throw it in the oven and roast it. The next time you walk through the produce department, grab a big bunch of broccoli and enjoy the hundreds of ways to eat it up!