A member of the cuciferae family - cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collards, kale, turnips, rutabagas, Chinese cabbage - they share a common feature: their four-petaled flowers bear the resemblance to a Greek cross which is why they are frequently referred to as crucifers or cruciferous. The Roman farmers called broccoli "the five fingers of Jupiter". Horticulturists commonly 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. Broccoli came from the Latin word brachium, which means strong arm or branch!

Broccoli and cauliflower were called colewort in the late 16th century England. The familiar head of cabbage was called "cabbage," while the entire plant was called cabbage-cole, cole or colewort.

The Romans were enamored with broccoli almost immediately - Pliny the Elder (an Italian naturalist and writer) tells us the Romans grew and enjoyed broccoli during the first century. The vegetable became a standard favorite in Rome where the variety called Calabrese was developed. Calabrese is the most common variety still eaten in the US - relished for its lusty flavor. Before this variety was cultivated, people were eating the purple sprouting broccoli that turned green when cooked. Purple broccoli, like most purple vegetables, do turn green when cooked!

Thomas Jefferson began keeping detailed notes in his garden book of all seeds or seedlings planted in his extensive garden at Monticello - his beautiful mountain home near Charlottesville, VA - and recorded planting broccoli on May 27, 1767. In "A Treatsie on Gardening By a Citizen of Virginia", John Randolph wrote: "The stems will eat like asparagus, and the heads like cauliflower." Broccoli received nothing more than in- difference in the US, with the exception of the Italian immigrants who grew this wonderful vegetable in their backyard gardens.

Broccoli entered the US over 200 years ago, however, it did not become a popular product until Italian immigrants came to the US with their broccoli seeds. They began some trial tests plantings in San Jose in 1922, and shipped their first crates to Boston. Through radio ads, the country was having a love affair with this highly nutritious vegetable by 1930, and consumers were convinced that broccoli was a newly developed plant!

If you need an iron boost, looking for a vitamin C fix, feel your potassium level is low, need some fiber in your diet, look no further than broccoli. Broccoli is the super hero of the vegetable kingdom - ½ cup of cooked broccoli (never overcook) contains over 1000 international units of Vitamin A. It also supplies abundant amounts of folic acid, calcium and due to the high vitamin C content helps your body absorb the iron in broccoli - one cup of broccoli provides 10% of your daily iron needs.

Here are some nutritional comparisons:

One cup of cooked broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, and 1/3# has more vitamin C than 2-1/2# of oranges. If you count your daily calories, ½ cup of cooked broccoli contains under 25 calories! Broccoli and its other cruciferous 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. It is thought that broccoli, along with onions, carrots and cabbage might be helpful in lowering blood cholesterol. The USDA research center in Philadelphia discovered that these vegetables contain a certain pectin fiber called calcium pectate that binds to bile acids which holds more cholesterol in the liver, releasing less into the bloodstream. They have found that broccoli is as effective as some cholesterol lowering drugs. Dr. Richard Anderson, a diabetes expert from the USDA's Human Research Laboratory found that chromium - a trace mineral in huge abundance in broccoli - may be effective in preventing adult-onset diabetes. Chromium boosts the ability of insulin to perform better in people with slight glucose intolerance.

Broccoli needs to be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Like all fresh foods, use as soon after purchase as possible in order to retail all the wonderful nutritional benefits this vegetable provides.

Broccoli is great raw in salads or eaten out of hand. Shred the stems and make a tasty broccoli slaw - the stems are very nutritious and contain a lot of fiber. Put chopped broccoli florets and stems into a blender with water, kale, cucumber, celery and add a pear or apple for some sweetness - this is the Mother lode of nutrition!

Broccoli is ideal steamed - never overcook - and is complimented with whole, sliced or slivered almonds -- add some fresh garlic, tamari and cayenne pepper -- a good side dish or as a meal in itself!

Broccoli is a cool weather vegetable, and broccoli hybrids include:
  • Broccolini: cross between broccoli and Chinese kale
  • Broccoli Raab: although not related to broccoli (it is a decendent from a wild herb that grows in the Mediterranean)
  • Broccoflower: Looks like green cauliflower and is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower
  • Purple Broccoli: A cousin of broccoli and looks like small heads of purple cauliflower
Who invented broccoli?

Albert R Broccoli - born in Queens into an impoverished Italian-American farming family. His ancestors invented broccoli by crossing cauliflower seeds with pea seeds! (Albert Broccoli also produced the 16 James Bond movies)