Botanically, the vegetable is a member of large cruciferous (Brassica) family of vegetables, which also include cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and arugula.
Broccoli is a cool-season crop and demands fertile and well-drained soil to flourish. Technically, broccoli is categorized into two main types according to their appearance; heading and sprouting. Heading variety forms a large, solid head, whereas sprouting types forms many smaller heads or florets.
Once established, broccoli plant bears about 4-10 inches wide, dark green to purple color flower-heads depending on the cultivar type. The central thick stalk measures about 6-10 inches in length and both the stalk and fleshy flower heads are edible.
Broccoflower (a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower), broccolini (broccoli and Chinese-kale) are few of different hybrid-mix of broccoli established with other cruciferous family members.
Health benefits of broccoli
Broccoli is one of the very low-calorie vegetables; provides just 34 calories per 100 g. Nonetheless, it is rich in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants that have proven health benefits. Total antioxidant strength oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of broccoli is 1632 µmol TE/100 g.
Fresh Broccoli is a storehouse of many phytonutrients such as thiocyanates, indoles, sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and flavonoids like beta-carotene cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Studies have shown that these compounds by modifying positive signaling at molecular receptor levels help protect against prostate, colon, urinary bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancers.
Fresh broccoli is an exceptionally rich source of vitamin-C; providing 89.2 mg or about 150% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin-C is a powerful natural antioxidant, and immune modulator helps fight against flu-causing viruses.
Further, it contains good amounts of another anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-A. 100 g fresh head provides 623 IU or 21 % of recommended daily levels. Together with other pro-vitamins like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and zeaxanthin, vitamin-A helps in maintaining the integrity of skin and mucosa. Vitamin-A is essential for healthy eyesight and helps prevent macular degeneration of the retina in the older adults.
Broccoli leaves (green tops) are an excellent source of carotenoids and vitamin-A; (16000 IU of vitamin-A per 100 g) carrying these compounds many folds higher than that in their flower-heads.
Fresh heads are an excellent source of folates; contain about 63 µg/100 grams (provides 16% of RDA). Studies have shown that consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits rich in folates during pre-conception, and pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
This floret-vegetable is a rich source of vitamin-K and the B-complex group of vitamins like Niacin (vitamin B-3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), and riboflavin. Further, its florets also hold some amount of omega-3 fatty acids (Alpha linolenic acid-ALA).
Furthermore, it is also a good source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus.
Selection and storage
Fresh broccoli heads can be available year around. In the market, choose fresh, bright, compact, firm textured flower heads with rich flavor. Avoid those with overmature florets featuring yellow flower buds, excessive branching, and hollow stem ones. Buy, if possible, from the nearby organic farm to get maximum health benefits.
Once at home, rinse flower head by dipping it upside down in the salted water for up to 30 minutes and then wash again in running cold water before use in cooking to remove any pesticide residues and dirt. Clean broccoli greens in the same way as any other greens like spinach.
Eat broccoli while they are fresh. Otherwise, place it in the refrigerator wrapped in a zip pouch where it may keep well for few days.
Preparation and serving methods
Fleshy floret heads, stalks, and leaves are edible. Broccoli sections used in varieties of delicacies. Tough stalks and thick leaves are trimmed using a paring knife.
Here are some preparation tips:
Young, tender, broccoli heads may be eaten raw or as a salad.
Its flower heads are much sought-after in stir-fries; either alone or with other vegetables, beans, and poultry, in mouth-watering recipes mixed with sauce, oil, onions, pepper, and garlic.
Prolonged cooking, boiling, and microwaving of broccoli have been found to destroy heat sensitive vitamins like folate, antioxidant vitamin-like vitamin-C, and some of its anti-cancer phytonutrients. Alternatively, employing few other brief cooking techniques like steaming, and gentle braising may not alter much of the composition of these compounds.