Broccoli is one of the cruciferous vegetables—a family of vegetables named for their cross-shaped flowers. Other members of this family of healthful vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
The name “broccoli” comes from the Latin word brachium, which means “branch,” or “arm”—an apt description for a vegetable with numerous thick, fleshy stalks supporting a head of compact florets.
Broccoli, like the other cruciferous vegetables, was the result of selective breeding of the wild cabbage plant. Broccoli began to be cultivated some 2,500 years ago in the northern Mediterranean and became a beloved food of the ancient Romans. It was first introduced to France in the 1500s and to England and the United States in the mid-1700s. (Thomas Jefferson grew broccoli at Monticello.) But broccoli did not become widely used here until the early 1900s, when Italian immigrants introduced other Americans to it through their cooking. By the 1920s broccoli had become popular throughout the country, and it has remained one of the best-selling vegetables ever since.
The overwhelmingly most common type of broccoli in the US and Canada is a compact-head variety bred in Calabria, Italy. Technically named Calabrese (Italian for Calabrian), that is in fact broccoli’s common name in many parts of the world.
Types of Broccoli
If you like broccoli, you may want to also try broccoflower, broccolini, broccoli rabe, and gai-lan.
A high-fiber, nutrient-dense food, broccoli is an excellent source of B vitamins, with particularly high levels of folate and riboflavin. Broccoli also contains the carotenoids beta carotene and lutein, as well as significant amounts of potassium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
The florets, stalks, and leaves are all edible, with somewhat varying nutrient levels. For example, broccoli stalks contain higher levels of fiber and vitamin C than the florets. And the leaves are the part highest in beta carotene, followed by the florets and then the stalks.
In addition, broccoli contains other phytochemicals such as glucosinolates (which break down into indoles and isothiocyanates after broccoli is eaten), dithiolthiones, glucoraphanin, and s- methyl cysteine sulfoxide. Research suggests that phytochemicals play a beneficial role in human health, though it’s not clear how many or how much of them we need to get those benefits.
Broccoli Cooking Tips and Recipe Ideas
Learn how to choose the best broccoli and cook it in seven delicious ways.
Published April 06, 2016