Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables. It contains a variety of top-class active ingredients that can protect against diseases. Broccoli is also an excellent source of vitamins C and K. However, care must be taken when preparing broccoli so that the beneficial substances are not destroyed.
George Bush’s favorite vegetable: broccoli
Hardly any other vegetable is hated or loved like the blue-green broccoli. George Bush senior is said to have rumbled: “I am the President of the United States and I will eat no more broccoli!” This dislike stems from the fact that his mother forced his happiness on him as a child.
As President, he then decreed that he would never again see a single floret of broccoli on his plate, whether in the White House, on Air Force One, or anywhere else in the world. Barack Obama, on the other hand, announced – probably also as a political statement – that broccoli was his absolute favorite vegetable.
You can argue about taste and politics. But not about the fact that the health value of broccoli can hardly be surpassed. It is not without reason that researchers from all over the world are studying the healing effects of green cabbage and have already made astonishing discoveries in this regard.
The Origin of Broccoli
Like all other types of cabbage, broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. Italica) belongs to the sizeable cruciferous family. To be more precise, broccoli, like Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and cabbage, is a cultivated form (variety) of cabbage.
They are all descended from the wild form of the cabbage native to the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. In Germany, the fantastic form – the so-called cliff cabbage – can now only be found in Heligoland.
The relationship between broccoli and cauliflower
Most varieties of cabbage are very different from the original cabbage, as they are the result of centuries of breeding. Broccoli most closely resembles cauliflower and is also very closely related to it. In both cases, the flower buds and stem were grown and selected. One therefore also speaks of a flowering vegetable, as in the case of the artichoke.
The florets of the head are the inflorescences that are not yet fully developed. Unlike cauliflower, however, the flower buds of broccoli are well developed. Therefore, the inflorescences are clearly visible. As a rule, the broccoli is harvested before the inflorescences open, otherwise, it loses its aroma. If harvested later, it turns into a sea of delicate flowers.
Broccoli tastes mild and similar to asparagus
In some places, broccoli is referred to as asparagus cabbage. This name says a lot about the aroma of this cabbage vegetable. In fact, this is more reminiscent of asparagus than of the typical cabbage taste. So if you’re not exactly a fan of cauliflower or Brussels sprouts because of the smell and taste, you’ll probably be much more comfortable with the fine-tasting and not so obtrusive-smelling broccoli.
From Asia Minor to the big wide world
There are various theories as to where broccoli was first cultivated. According to a Swedish study, he is said to have seen the light of day in Asia Minor. From there, traders are said to have brought the seeds to the Italian peninsula in Roman times, where broccoli has been cultivated with a lot more for centuries.
It took a while before northern Europeans could also enjoy the delicious vegetables from Asia Minor. No less than the Medici introduced the French to broccoli in the 16th century. From France, broccoli made its way throughout Europe. However, broccoli was not able to establish itself in Germany at the time, it fell into oblivion.
It was only in the 1970s that he found his way there again from Italy. While cauliflower has long been a popular vegetable, this odd green-headed Italian cabbage has been viewed with skepticism for quite some time. Some even questioned whether this dark green cabbage was even edible. Broccoli is now considered a trendy vegetable due to its fine taste and health potential and enjoys its reputation as the star of the cabbage family.
The Calories of Broccoli
Like all vegetables, broccoli is very low in calories. It only has an energy content of 34 kcal (142 kJ) per 100 g of broccoli.
The nutritional values of broccoli
The nutritional values of fresh broccoli per 100g are as follows:
- Water 89.6g
- Protein 3 g
- Carbohydrates 2.8 g (fructose 1.1 g, glucose 1.07 g, sucrose 0.49 g, starch 0.13 g)
- sorbitol 0.4 g
- Fiber 3g
- Fat 0.2g
The vitamins and minerals in broccoli
When it comes to vitamin content, broccoli is one of the frontrunners among all vegetables. Because broccoli contains some vitamins in particularly high concentrations, such as vitamin C, vitamin K or beta-carotene.
In terms of minerals, broccoli is also significantly better equipped than many other vegetables. For example, it provides significant amounts of calcium, iron, and copper.
Broccoli as a source of vitamin K
In terms of vitamin K1, broccoli-like cabbage vegetables – are a good choice. Because if you only eat 100 grams of the flowering vegetable, you are already providing yourself with almost twice the daily vitamin K1 requirement, which is officially 70 µg (but is probably higher). Vitamin K1 is essential for blood clotting, cell growth, and bone metabolism.
Both osteoporosis and heart disease (arteriosclerosis) is associated with low vitamin K levels, because vitamin K takes care of, among other things. ensures the correct distribution of calcium in the body so that calcium can get into the bones instead of accumulating in the blood vessel walls.
Broccoli: optimal source of vitamin C
Vitamin C is often associated exclusively with fruits, especially citrus fruits. There is a lot more of this vital antioxidant in some vegetables. Broccoli, for example, is rich in vitamin C. Just a 100-gram portion (115 mg of vitamin C) covers over 100 percent of the official daily vitamin C requirement (100 mg). (However, it is now assumed that the actual vitamin C requirement is much higher so you should not only eat a portion of broccoli every day but many other vitamin C-rich foods!)
Vitamin C supports the fight against free radicals, thereby reducing oxidative stress and lowering the risk of numerous diseases typical of civilization such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Researchers from the University of Manitoba/Canada wrote in 2018 that even in industrialized countries many people – almost one in five – are not optimally supplied with vitamin C and that where the supermarkets offer a huge selection of fruit and vegetables.
Glycemic index and glycemic load of broccoli
The glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) indicate how much food affects blood sugar levels. Broccoli has a very low glycemic index of 15 and a very low glycemic load of 0.9. Values up to 10 are considered low by the GL. For GI, values below 50 are considered low, and values above 70 are considered high. Like other cruciferous plants, broccoli thus contributes to a healthy blood sugar level and, as a result, to a balanced insulin level and can be perfectly integrated into any low-carb diet.
The healing substances in broccoli
Broccoli is not only rich in micronutrients and roughage but is also a very good source of secondary plant substances. These primarily include the so-called mustard oil glycosides, which are found exclusively in cruciferous vegetables.
There are around 120 of these sulfur-containing compounds in total. According to analyzes at the University of Oradea, every vegetable that belongs to the cruciferous family is characterized by the presence and dominance of certain mustard oil glycosides, creating an individual fingerprint. The most important mustard oil glycosides in broccoli include glucoraphanin and glucobrassicin.
Thanks to certain enzymes, these compounds are now converted to effective isothiocyanates (= mustard oils), the former to sulforaphane, and the latter to indole-3-carbinol. So the mustard oil glycosides by themselves are not responsible for the healing properties of broccoli. It is the resulting mustard oil.
As far as the total content of mustard oil glycosides is concerned, broccoli clearly leads the hit list of all types of cabbage with 19 to 127 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh vegetables. In comparison, the same amount of cauliflower contains between 11 and 78 milligrams.
This is how mustard oils are made
You can picture this as a two-chamber system in the plant cells. The mustard oil glycosides are stored in one chamber and an enzyme called myrosinase in the other.
When insects nibble on broccoli or other cruciferous plants, or when we humans cut, rub, or chew them, the plant cells are injured. Here the mustard oil glycosides come into contact with the enzyme myrosinase. It is only at this moment that the species-typical mustard oils, e.g. B. the sulforaphane formed.
Sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol: mustard oils in broccoli
Both in vitro and human studies have shown that sulforaphane e.g. reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, can help with autism and osteoporosis, and protects against various types of cancer.
Indole-3-carbinol is also an anti-oxidative substance that acts against inflammation and arteriosclerosis and also has anti-tumor properties. This mustard oil is said to play a special role in cancer prevention, as it has the ability to neutralize carcinogenic toxins in the body.
Broccoli sprouts reduce the risk of intestinal diseases
Conventional sprouts are eaten after 2 to 4 days. So-called microgreens are older sprouts. They are grown in soil and harvested after about 7 days, i.e. when they have already developed green leaves. To harvest, they are cut off a finger’s breadth above the ground.
Compared to sprouts, microgreens have the advantage that they have absorbed valuable nutrients from the soil and have formed chlorophyll through sunlight. Microgreens also contain more high-quality protein and essential oils, which benefits the medicinal effect.
According to an in vitro study conducted in 2020 at the University of Valencia, broccoli microgreens have powerful antioxidant effects and attack tumor cells in the intestine. The researchers stated that daily consumption as part of a balanced diet is a preventive nutritional strategy to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as colon cancer.
Broccoli for type 2 diabetes
Blue-green broccoli is an optimal food for people with type 2 diabetes. On the one hand, it is – like all vegetables – low in calories and fat, but at the same time rich in vital substances and fiber. On the other hand, it is its specific plant substances that can have a downright healing effect on type 2 diabetes.
In a July 2017 article in the journal Nature, one read that a broccoli extract was able to resolve the disease in diabetic rats and that the extract improved both fasting and long-term blood sugar levels in (human) type 2 diabetics without any side effects.
An Iranian study involved 81 patients divided into 3 groups. They took either 5 or 10 grams of broccoli sprouts powder or a placebo daily for 4 weeks.
After 4 weeks, the application of 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder resulted in a significant decrease in the concentration of insulin in the blood. The antidiabetic effect has been attributed to the high intake of sulforaphane. Researchers concluded that broccoli sprouts may improve insulin resistance in diabetics.
Since higher sulforaphane levels can be absorbed with the help of broccoli extracts than with fresh broccoli vegetables, many people take appropriate extracts in addition to a healthy diet. If you want to try a broccoli extract, make sure that it contains at least 50, preferably 100 mg of sulforaphane per daily dose.
Broccoli contains healthy plant compounds
Now that we’ve covered the healing properties of mustard oils in more detail, cruciferous plants like broccoli contain many other phytochemicals. These include carotenoids such as beta-carotene, chlorophylls, and various phenolic compounds such as catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, and anthocyanins. These substances also act against free radicals, strengthen the immune system and reduce u. the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Green, purple and yellow broccoli
In summer in particular, at the weekly markets and in well-stocked vegetable shops you will find – if you are lucky – not only blue-green but also white, orange, violet, and almost black broccoli. The color often indicates which secondary plant substances are in the cabbage.
The delicious flower buds owe their typical dark green shimmering color to the high chlorophyll content. The so-called leaf green has i.a. detoxifying and antitumor properties and a positive effect on the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
In violet varieties like Rosalind, anthocyanins provide the blaze of color. They are counted among the strongest antioxidants. Purple broccoli has an overall higher content of phenolic compounds and as a result has significantly stronger antioxidant, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Different colored broccoli is so rare that analyzes are lacking. However, it is known from cauliflower that the white variant has no coloring at all and therefore has a lower antioxidant potential, while an orange color indicates a very high proportion of carotenoids. However, green broccoli also contains a lot of the natural yellow-orange pigments that are only invisible because they are covered by chlorophyll.
Conventional broccoli loaded with pesticides
How healthy the broccoli really ultimately also depends on whether it was grown conventionally or organically. In general, according to the chemical and veterinary investigation office in Stuttgart, sprout vegetables from conventional cultivation do not do so badly in terms of pesticide residues, but asparagus and broccoli, unfortunately, step out of line.
Analyzes in 2019 showed that 12 out of 14 broccoli samples were contaminated with residues. Of these, 9 samples contained multiple residues. The substance chlorate was detected in two samples – above the legally permitted maximum level.
This is a herbicide that has not been approved in the EU since 2008. However, chlorate does not only get into food by spraying it but also through contaminated irrigation water, contaminated soil, or the use of disinfectants. The latter are used in the food industry, e.g. used to wash fruit and vegetables. This should destroy bacteria and fungi and extend the storage period.
This is of concern because chlorate inhibits the absorption of iodide in the thyroid gland. Chlorate can also damage red blood cells. The substance can have a negative effect on the health of children, pregnant women, or people with thyroid dysfunction, even if it is consumed on a small but regular basis.
Organic broccoli is naturally healthier
Based on the available data, broccoli is one of those types of vegetables that you should buy of organic quality. In this way, you avoid the unnecessary intake of pesticides and at the same time, you can do something good for the environment.
And if someone once again tells you that organic vegetables are also contaminated with pesticides, then you can say “No” unequivocally! Because analyzes prove again and again: organic is better! The Ökomonitoring 2018 – published by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry for Rural Areas and Consumer Protection – shows that fruit and vegetables from organic cultivation have no or at least much fewer residues than conventionally produced ones.
While conventionally grown vegetables contained an average of around 0.5 milligrams of pesticides per kilogram of vegetables, the organic samples examined contained an average of just 0.008 milligrams. In total, the term “organic” was judged to be misleading for only 5 samples of organic vegetables due to increased pesticide residues – broccoli was not among them.
In organic farming, the application of problematic pesticides is prohibited. Entries can still occur due to drift from neighboring conventional fields. According to eco-monitoring, organic food rightly has a good reputation!
Grow your own broccoli
If you are one of the lucky garden owners, then of course you can grow your own broccoli there. The vegetable is quite uncomplicated but needs a sunny location and nutrient-rich and deep soil.
It is interesting that broccoli can be harvested several times in a garden year. This is due to the regrowing side shoots. Because after the cut, the shoot axis forms new side shoots with flower buds. It is important that you only cut off the main shoot with the flower buds and use the knife directly on the armpit. If you also cut off the regrowing, thinner side shoots, you can extend the harvest by up to 4 weeks.
Growing in pots on the balcony or terrace is not really worthwhile as broccoli takes up a lot of space.
How to grow broccoli sprouts yourself
If you don’t have a garden, you can easily grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens in your apartment. Proceed as follows:
- Buy broccoli seed suitable for sprouting.
- Soak the seeds in cold water for at least 6 hours – preferably overnight.
- Now place the seeds in a germination tray without water. It is important that they are not too close together. 1.5 tablespoons are enough per sprouting bowl.
- Put the germination tray in a dark place. The seeds are dark germs that must not be exposed to light.
- Water the broccoli sprouts at least 2 times a day without leaving the seeds in the water. The seeds are more likely to be rinsed, as the water is poured off again and again. Temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius are ideal.
- After 2 or 4 days you can harvest your broccoli sprouts.
How to grow microgreens on the windowsill
Growing microgreens isn’t rocket science either. We have put together a short guide for you:
- Take a shallow dish that is 3 to 7 cm high and fill it with 2 to 4 cm of good quality organic potting soil.
- Take just enough seeds so that the seeds are not on top of each other and press them lightly into the soil.
- Dampen the seeds with a hand sprayer, then cover the tray.
- From the 4th day, you can remove the cover and put the bowl in a bright place, but not in direct sunlight!
- Spray the plantlets with water twice a day.
- The microgreens are only harvested when the first leaves have appeared. The ideal time is from the 6th day after sowing.
Store broccoli sprouts correctly
Broccoli sprouts and microgreens should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. They can be stored in the crisper at 2 to 7 degrees Celsius – wrapped in a damp paper towel and in a cling box. It is recommended not to keep the gnomes for more than 3 days.
Only buy really fresh broccoli
Broccoli is one of those types of vegetables for which harvesting at the right time is particularly important. Because once the flower buds have opened, the taste suffers and the stems become woody. Therefore, when shopping, make sure that the buds are still tightly closed, the stems look fresh and crisp and the leaves are not hanging limp.
The head should not be too loose, should feel firm, and not show any damage. In addition, the flowering vegetable should be a rich blue-green color. If yellowish discoloration becomes noticeable, this indicates that the vegetable has already passed its best days and should no longer be bought.
The broccoli should be eaten as soon as possible, preferably within 1 to 2 days after purchase. The vegetables are not sensitive to cold, the ideal storage temperature is between 0 and 1 degree Celsius. The vegetable drawer of the refrigerator is therefore a good place to give broccoli a good home for a short time. If you put it in without further precautions, it will stay there for a maximum of 2 days.
But there are ways to extend the shelf life by 1 to 2 days. You can put the dark green vegetables in an air-permeable bag (e.g. made of breathable organic film), wrap them in cling film, or in a damp cloth. However, the tuck must never be dripping wet, otherwise, mold will quickly form and the broccoli is no longer edible and must therefore be disposed of. In terms of durability, however, cling film does a better job than a damp cloth.
Store broccoli like a bouquet
Cut flowers are placed in a vase to prevent them from fading. The broccoli likes it too!
- Fill a bowl with water (about 1.5 centimeters).
- Then place the broccoli inside, stem down of course.
- It is important that the head protrudes over the edge of the bowl.
- Now you can cover your head loosely with an air-permeable plastic bag and put the bowl in the fridge.
- The water should be changed daily.
If you use this slightly unconventional method, the broccoli will keep for 5 to 7 days.
If you’ve bought or harvested too much broccoli and can’t use it up in a few days, freezing it is great. Proceed as follows:
- Put a large pot with water on.
- Then wash the broccoli under lukewarm running water and break it into florets with your hands. Simply hold the florets and break them off.
- Cut the peeled stalk into equal-sized cubes with a knife.
- It is important that the florets and the stalk pieces are about the same size, preferably 2.5 centimeters long and wide.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
- Now blanch the broccoli pieces in boiling water for about 3 minutes.
- Then put them in the ice water and chill them for 3 minutes.
- Drain the broccoli in a colander and dry the pieces carefully with paper towels.
- Fill the florets and stalk pieces into freezer bags in portions, seal them airtight and place them in the freezer.
If the broccoli is frozen this way, it can be stored for up to 1 year.
Therefore, it is blanched before freezing
You may be thinking that it would be much quicker to just freeze the broccoli raw. However, blanching the frozen broccoli in boiling water not only makes it last longer, it also retains its natural properties.
Like any other vegetable, broccoli contains bacteria and enzymes that change its color, texture, and flavor during freezing. Blanching kills the bacteria and deactivates the enzymes so that the beautiful green color, crisp texture, and delicate taste can be preserved.
Get the broccoli ready to cook
Preparing broccoli is easy. Only wash your head under running water immediately before preparation and then shake it dry a little. You can then cut the broccoli into small florets by holding the stalk with one hand and cutting off the florets with the other hand so that only the stalk remains. If the stalk is also cooked, it is divided into several pieces – depending on the size of the florets – and added to the boiling water a little earlier.
You can also cook the asparagus cabbage whole. All you have to do is cut off the stalk, otherwise, it would not be done by the time the florets are soft.
Don’t throw away the leaves and stalk of broccoli!
Often only the delicate broccoli florets are used in the kitchen, while the stalk, which is somewhat woody, and the leaves end up in the garbage. Keep in mind that florets make up only 15 percent of a broccoli plant. 17 percent comprise the root, 21 percent the stalk, and a whopping 47 percent the leaves. Both the stem and the leaves are edible and taste delicious.
In addition, the often neglected parts of the plant also have a lot to offer in terms of health. In terms of mustard oil glycosides, the florets have a lot more to report. But there are clearly more carotenoids in the leaves, such as beta-carotene and lutein, as well as chlorophylls.
According to analyzes by an international team of researchers, 1 gram of florets (dry weight) contains around 180 µg of carotenoids, and the same amount of leaves contains 1,095 µg. The sheets also contain i.a. more magnesium, calcium, vitamin E, and vitamin K. The stalk, on the other hand, contains more potassium, sodium, and fiber than the florets and leaves.
The stalk and stalks of the florets often fall victim to the vegetable peeler. There is no question that the peeled stalk is less woody and more tender when the skin comes off. However, this also reduces the content of ingredients that are hidden directly under the skin.
Eat broccoli raw
Broccoli can be eaten raw very well. However, people who tend to flatulence should not expect too much and start with small amounts of raw broccoli. Be sure to cut the broccoli into very small pieces. If you marinate it beforehand with a fine dressing, it is generally not only extremely delicious but also easily digestible.
Chew raw broccoli thoroughly and take your time eating it. You should also eat such a raw food dish as a starter, i.e. not with something cooked. Because the mixture of raw and cooked food can be too much for some digestive systems.
Broccoli is ideal to enjoy raw. You can use the crunchy florets to spice up salads or to prepare a delicious smoothie.
However, people who are prone to flatulence should not take on too much and only eat small amounts of raw broccoli. If the stalk is peeled, it is better tolerated. It also helps to cut the broccoli into small pieces and then chew each bite at least 10 times. If the raw food is eaten before cooked meals and served with a little high-quality oil, the tolerability is also improved.
Never boil broccoli sprouts
However, people with sensitive intestines can also use broccoli sprouts or microgreens, which are more digestible. The tiny ones should under no circumstances be cooked, otherwise, they are no longer as valuable and also taste like almost nothing. They are ideal for garnishing wholemeal rolls or for refining salads, soups, and sauces.
Why raw broccoli is healthier than cooked
As far as the loss of nutrients and secondary plant substances is concerned, broccoli in its uncooked form cannot be surpassed. However, not everyone is a fan of raw food and it is also not necessarily suitable if you regularly want to treat yourself to a larger portion of healthy cabbage. But what happens to the mustard oil glycosides during cooking?
According to a study conducted at Robert Gordon University, the enzyme myrosinase is deactivated when broccoli is cooked. When cooked broccoli is eaten, intestinal bacteria ensure that mustard oils are formed. However, the conversion of mustard oil glycosides into mustard oils and their absorption are more effective when raw broccoli is eaten.
When cooking broccoli, always add small amounts of raw broccoli or another raw cabbage such as arugula or mustard seeds after cooking. Because the raw cruciferous vegetables contain the enzyme myrosinase and can thus stimulate the formation of mustard oils and increase their bioavailability.
If you do not want to eat broccoli raw, make sure that the cooking time is as short as possible. Because then the vital substances, the beautiful green color, and the aroma are optimally preserved. Depending on the size of the florets, a cooking time of 4 to 8 minutes is sufficient. If you want to cook the broccoli whole, you should plan for about 10 minutes. If the broccoli is fried or baked, it can also withstand a longer cooking time.
Blanching is the ideal cooking method for preserving the bright green color of broccoli. You can then use the vegetables to enrich soups or salads or process them as a side dish. The instructions on how to blanch the asparagus cabbage can be found above in the chapter: Freezing broccoli
You should not boil the broccoli. The nutrient losses would be too high. Steam the broccoli instead. This cooking method involves very little loss of nutrients. Fry the florets with a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute. Then fill the pot with water until the vegetables are half covered. Put a lid on the pot and let the broccoli simmer for about 8 minutes. Do not remove the lid during the cooking process so that no water vapor (including some of the water-soluble ingredients) escapes.
The broccoli can also be fried very well in the pan. You can cut the vegetables into very small florets or slice them. Then sauté the broccoli in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If the broccoli is roasted, the roasted aromas provide a snazzy, nutty note. But make sure that the temperature is not too high! Because the small and fine florets burn quickly and then taste bitter.
You can also use a wok instead of a frying pan. If you mix different vegetables, you should add broccoli later. Then it is fried al dente without charring.
Broccoli also cuts a fine figure in the oven. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Mix the florets with a little olive oil in a bowl so that they are evenly coated with the oil. Then spread not too large florets on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until it is nice and crispy.