Though they look and taste drastically different, broccoli comes from the same vegetable family as turnips, radishes, and cabbage. This family, known as the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family (the cabbage family for short), contains over 3,700 species of plants!
What cruciferous vegetables all have in common is their amazing ability to lower the risk of cancers and cardiovascular diseases. This family of vegetables is also known to contain large amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid, which controls levels of homocysteine in the blood.
Cruciferous vegetables are key to good health, and out of the entire family, broccoli stands out as one of the healthiest. Afterall, broccoli isn’t considered to be the epitome of healthy foods for nothing.
Its name comes from the Latin word brachium, meaning branch — very fitting for this tree-shaped superfood. Originally from Italy, broccoli spread throughout the ancient world and was brought to the Americas by Italian immigrants during colonization. Since then, broccoli has become a staple in Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and American cuisine.
It’s also one of the most common frozen vegetables in the world, only falling short of frozen corn and mushrooms.
The Top Health Benefits of Broccoli
Broccoli strengthens the immune system
Just half a cup of broccoli contains about 50 mg of vitamin C. Considering that the daily recommended intake of vitamin C for adults is 65 to 90 mg, that’s pretty impressive!
Vitamin C plays a starring role in the health of your immune system. By acting as a defense against toxins, vitamin C decreases the amount of toxic compounds entering your body, and even acts as a treatment for the common cold.
Besides that, vitamin C is known to aid in tissue growth and repair, as well as bone and tooth maintenance.
Broccoli helps protect against cancer
Broccoli contains a significant amount of the phytochemical sulforaphane which does wonders for your health. Sulforaphane neutralizes harmful toxins in the body, reducing inflammation.
This function of sulforaphane is known to flush out cancer-causing chemicals from the body, possibly reducing the risk and effects of cancer.
Specifically, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may protect against breast, prostate, stomach, colorectal, kidney, and bladder cancers. However, it cannot be definitively claimed that broccoli can prevent cancer — more research needs to be done.
Broccoli promotes good gut health
Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system. While the body can break down other carbohydrates and turn them into sugar molecules, fiber is one carbohydrate the body can’t break down.
Instead, fiber goes through the body undigested, helping to regulate the body’s hunger, weight, and blood sugar levels. Along the way, fiber cleans out bacteria in your intestines, promoting good gut health and healthy digestion. That’s why fiber is commonly used as a tool to prevent or cure diarrhea and constipation.
Not only that, but good fiber intake is also linked to a longer life span, cancer prevention, good heart health, and diabetes treatment.
Broccoli is an amazing source of this much-needed carbohydrate — just one cup of broccoli contains 2.4 grams of fiber!
Buying Broccoli: What to Look For
To make sure you get the best quality broccoli for your money, look out for any obvious signs of over-maturity and rotting.
Whatever broccoli you buy should be made up of compact florets connected to a thick stalk. Whether dark green or purple, broccoli should always feel firm to the touch. If it’s soft, slimy, or falls apart when you touch the florets, it’s likely past its prime.
Visually, broccoli should be vibrant in color and should not have any yellow spots. If there are any flowers blooming out of the florets, that’s an even clearer sign that that broccoli is not fit for eating.
While at the market, you may come across broccolini, a vegetable very similar to broccoli. Broccolini has a much longer stem and looser florets than broccoli. When cooked, it’s sweeter than broccoli, too, and doesn’t have as much of a hardy, earthy flavor.
They are very similar but keep their slightly differing flavors in mind when choosing which vegetable to use for a recipe.
Once you’ve got your broccoli, you can store it in a well-sealed container or bag in your refrigerator for up to 10 days. Don’t wash the broccoli beforehand or you’ll only speed up the spoiling process.
Cooking With Broccoli
Broccoli’s subtle flavor allows this superfood to fit in with countless recipes. Plus, because of its contrasting florets and stalk, broccoli is both soft and crunchy, and can bring a good range of texture to any dish.
Add it to pastas, pizzas, casseroles, soups, and salads for a delicious splash of color. Or turn it into a nutritious side for meat dishes.
With broccoli, the browner and softer it becomes during cooking, the less nutrients it’s going to have. That’s why we recommend steaming, boiling, or blanching your broccoli. These methods will keep your broccoli vibrant and nutritious.
To cook your broccoli, break the large head into smaller bite-sized bits. Steaming or boiling it will only take 5-6 minutes, while blanching should only take about 60 seconds. Once the broccoli is cooked, top it off with some oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, thyme, and garlic.
To make your simple side dish a bit more complex, you can mix in cheese, bacon, or other vegetables.
If you’re looking for a more savory way to serve up your broccoli, try broccoli & cheddar cheese puffs, croissants, quiches, or muffins. You won’t regret it!