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June 3, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Discover: Broccoli, Calabrese and Purple Sprouting

  • The words ‘broccoli’ and ‘calabrese’ are different varieties of the same vegetable.
  • In general terms, calabrese produces green heads whereas broccoli produces white or purple  heads (purple sprouting). 
  • The most common in England is ‘calabrese’ which annoyingly, is sold in some of the super markets as ‘broccoli’.
  • The flavour of calabrese is milder and much preferred by many to sprouting broccoli and it is an easier crop to grow.
  • To grow, first decide if you want to grow broccoli (smaller heads) or calabrese (larger heads). 

  • Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, and is closely related to cauliflower. 
  • Its cultivation originated in Italy, and Broccolo, its Italian name, means “cabbage sprout.” 
  • Broccoli evolved from a wild cabbage plant on the continent of Europe. 
  • Indications point to the vegetable’s being known 2,000 years ago.
  • Since the Roman Empire, broccoli has been considered a uniquely valuable food among Italians.
  • Broccoli has been grown in the UK since the early 18th century, although the purple sprouting variety has only risen to prominence in the last 30 years.
  • Broccoli was first introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants, but did not become widely known there until the 1920s.
  • Because of its different components, broccoli provides a range of tastes and textures, from soft and flowery (the floret) to fibrous and crunchy (the stem and stalk). 
  • Do not let the smell of the sulfur compounds that are released while cooking keep you away from this highly nutritious vegetable. 
  • Human population as well as animal studies consistently show that diets high in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower, are associated with lower incidence of certain cancers, including lung, colon, breast and ovarian cancer. 
  • Now, research published in the International Journal of Cancer (Zhao H, Lin J) suggests that bladder cancer can join the list.
  • Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains the phytonutrients sulforaphane and the indoles, which have significant anti-cancer effects. 
  • Research on indole-3-carbinol shows these compound helps deactivate a potent estrogen metabolite (4-hydroxyestrone) that promotes tumor growth, especially in estrogen-sensitive breast cells, while at the same time increasing the level of 2-hydroxyestrone, a form of estrogen that can be cancer-protective. 
  • Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to suppress not only breast tumor cell growth, but also cancer cell metastasis (the movement of cancerous cells to other parts of the body).
  • Broccoli is usually boiled or steamed, but may be eaten raw and has become popular as a raw vegetable in hors d’œuvre trays. 
  • Although boiling has been shown to reduce the levels of anti-cancer compounds in broccoli, other preparation methods such as steaming, microwaving, lactic fermentation, and stir-frying have not been shown to reduce the presence of these compounds.
Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Broccoli matures in spring from sowing made the previous year, whereas calabrese types matures in mid to late summer from sowings made earlier in the same year.
  • Because of the large differences in sowing to harvest times for different types of broccoli, it is extra-important to examine the instructions on the seed packets. That way you won’t pick the wrong variety.
  • The time of sowing broccoli with no protection depends on the variety, so read the seed-packet instructions carefully.

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