Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, and is closely related to cauliflower. Its cultivation originated in Italy. Broccolo, its Italian name, means "cabbage sprout." Broccoli's name is derived from the Latin word brachium, which means branch or arm, a reflection of its tree-like shape that features a compact head of florets attached by small stems to a larger stalk. Because of its different components, this vegetable provides a complex of tastes and textures, ranging from soft and flowery (the florets) too fibrous and crunchy (the stem and stalk). Its color can range from deep sage to a dark green to a purplish-green, depending upon the variety. One of the most popular types of broccoli sold in North America is known as Italian green, or Calabrese, named after the Italian province of Calabria where it first grew.
Broccoli has its roots in Italy. In ancient Roman times, it was developed from wild cabbage, a plant that more resembles collards than broccoli. It spread throughout the Near East where it was appreciated for its edible flower heads and was subsequently brought back to Italy where it was further cultivated. Broccoli was introduced to the United States in colonial times, popularized by Italian immigrants who brought this prized vegetable with them to the New World. I for one am glad they did – I love this veggie raw in salads or as a snack and cooked for dinner too!
Now on to the questions.
Q. Justin in Arkansas asks, "Which is healthier, Broccoli or Cauliflower?"
A. My answer is that it really doesn't matter because they are both so good and so good for you that you should eat them both regularly but Justin, you may find the graphic below helpful.
A. First off they need to look fresh, if they look ‘old’ go somewhere else. Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, either dark green, sage or purple-green, depending upon variety, and with no yellowing. In addition, they should not have any yellow flowers blossoming through, as this is a sign of over maturity. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots appearing either there or on the florets. If leaves are attached, they should be vibrant in color and not wilted.
Q. Dazy, in Texas also asks, “What is the healthiest way to cook broccoli?”
A. When you're cooking broccoli, make sure to support your nourishment by sticking with a low cooking temperature in a range that includes the steaming temperature of 212°F (100°C), with a cooking times of 5 minutes at the most. Since the fibrous stems take longer to cook, they can be prepared separately for a few minutes before adding the florets. For quicker cooking, make lengthwise slits in the stems. While people do not generally eat the leaves, they are perfectly edible and contain concentrated amounts of nutrients. Give them a try!
I recommend steaming broccoli for maximum nutrition and flavor. It is really a quick and easy way to enjoy your broccoli. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil prepare broccoli florets and stems. Steam stems for 2 minutes before adding the florets and leaves. Steam for 5 more minutes.
Q. Joe in Nevada asks, “Someone told me I should be careful about eating raw broccoli because of the amount of sulfur it contains. Is this an issue I should be concerned about?”
A. If you enjoy raw broccoli, by all means include it in your diet! There may be some special advantages for your digestive tract when broccoli is eaten in uncooked form. And if you're concerned about issues involving enzymes and sulfur compounds in broccoli—don't be! With fresh raw broccoli, simply slicing it a few minutes prior to eating it or even thorough chewing it you will take care of any concerns as both will help activate sulfur-metabolizing enzymes. Another form of broccoli you may also want to try in you enjoy raw broccoli is broccoli sprouts. Some of the nutrients found in broccoli—like vitamin C—are especially concentrated in broccoli sprouts. Remember that all raw broccoli requires more thorough chewing than cooked broccoli, so take your time enjoying the textures and flavors of this amazing vegetable.
A. They are not the same although they are really closely related!
A. Broccoli can be picked as soon as the heads are big enough for use. Obviously you get a larger yield if you wait until just before the yellow flowers start peeking out. Flavor is optimum just when heads began to get a little more loose due to the buds separating. Drop off is not dramatic and they are perfectly good even with a few flowers showing. I have to admit, I like my Broccoli when it is young and tender, would rather pick 2/3 smaller heads than one really large, but you will soon learn this for yourself with practice, it is a matter of taste if you like larger heads or smaller ones, sometimes I even just cut off a few Spears if I only want a little amount, the parts we eat are actually the flowering seed heads, so don’t let it get too yellow before you start to harvest, that is a sign that it is ready to flower. All of that being said a good guide is that Broccoli should be harvested when the head diameter is 4 to 8 inches.
Q. May in Washington also asks, “, I've read about broccoli heads "buttoning" after a cold snap. Is this common? What sorts of temperatures trigger it? And how do you know it's happened? And can you still eat the buttoned head?”
A. The development of small premature curds or buttons while the plants are young is known as buttoning. The button heads are exposed and the plants showing this condition usually have small, poorly developed leaves. Several factors like poor nitrogen supply, planting of over-age seedlings, unfavorable climatic conditions and improper time of planting are generally known to cause buttoning. Plain and simple, buttoning is the result of stress, brought about by unfavorable weather or other reasons. It occurs most often when the plant is stunted early in its life, it usually happens in the seedling stage. It is amazing to see folks buying cauliflower and broccoli plants at the garden centers that have already buttoned. When you transplant you need a young tender plant. If it has started a head in a tray or little pot, that is all that you ever going to get. They are very unforgiving.
Q. Howard in California asks, “The last three years my broccoli and cauliflower (not my cabbage) have been developing a soft root problem. First the plants wilt and then finally fall over. What can I do about this problem?”
A. This sounds like something I have seen many times, it sounds like your crops are being affected by verticillium or fusarium wilt. Both attack the susceptible plants through the roots, then the spores move into the transpirational stream of the vascular tissue, causing tissue collapse or wilts. Unfortunately, both are very successful saprophytes, so they can remain in the soil a long time.
I suggest crop rotations along with the use of resistant cultivars of these vegetables. But the first thing I would do is to pull the plants, bag them and throw them away (do not put them in the compost pile). Then I would solarize the soil. You can learn more about solarizing the soil from an article I posted some time ago about Solarizing the soil.