Broccoli has become one of the most popular vegetables in the United States, and there are many varieties, relatives, and derivatives available in supermarkets and farmers' markets. Here are some of the more common types of broccoli you may find.
Broccoflower: A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this vegetable comes in two types: one that looks just like a green cauliflower, and another—usually called Romanesco, Romanesco broccoli, or Romanesco cauliflower—that also looks somewhat like a green cauliflower in shape but has distinctive spiky floret spirals forming ornate fractal-like patterns. The taste of both varieties is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. The texture of the non-Romanesco variety is similar to that of regular cauliflower, while the Romanesco variety is crunchier.
Broccolini: A cross between gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) and broccoli, this vegetable is sometimes sold as “baby broccoli,” which of course is just a marketing gimmick. Broccolini can be recognized by its deep green color and long, slender stalks ending in small buds, like broccoli florets. Sweeter and more tender than broccoli, broccolini is cooked by the same methods as its larger cousin, but will require a shorter amount of time. While some people peel broccoli stalks before using them, broccolini requires no peeling. Broccolini is somewhat more expensive than broccoli, but (like broccoli) it is completely edible, from stem to flower.
Broccoli rabe (rapini): Broccoli rabe is actually a different cruciferous species and is also known as rapini. It tastes similar to Chinese broccoli, or gai-lan (see below). It resembles gai-lan as well, though broccoli rabe’s edible flowers are yellow rather than white.
Calabrese broccoli: This is the most popular type of broccoli in the US and Canada, and the type most of us think of when we say “broccoli.” It has light green stalks topped by a compact head of umbrella-shaped clusters of green florets sometimes tinged with purple. This variety of broccoli is named after the Italian province of Calabria, where it was first grown.
Gai-lan (kai-lan): Also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, gai-lan is longer and leafier, with a more pungent and bitter flavor than common green broccoli. Similar in flavor to broccoli rabe, it can be eaten in its entirety, including the clusters of white flowers if they are present.
Purple broccoli: This compact-headed hybrid has small purple florets that turn green once cooked. While it looks more like purple cauliflower than broccoli, it tastes decidedly like broccoli.
Sprouting broccoli: This variety is closer in growing behavior to wild cabbage, and it likely existed before the common type of broccoli most of us eat today. Sprouting broccoli can be purple or green and has multiple smaller heads branching off its main stalk. It tastes identical to regular green broccoli.