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Broccoli

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Broccoli is one of the most healthful foods you can eat--a real nutritional powerhouse. Along with a rich supply of vitamins and minerals--notably vitamin C, folate (folic acid), and potassium--it contains the phytochemical sulforaphane, which helps reduce the risk of cancer. In addition, broccoli contains a good amount of beta-carotene. And, unless you drown it in cheese sauce, broccoli is (like all green vegetables) low in calories and virtually fat-free.

A close relative of cauliflower, broccoli has grown wild in Mediterranean areas for hundreds of years; domestic broccoli was first cultivated in the United States in the Twenties. Since then, it has become one of the best-selling members of the Brassica genus (which also includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and other so-called cruciferous vegetables).

Varieties

The most common type of broccoli sold in the U.S. is called sprouting, or Italian green, broccoli; its light-green stalks are topped by umbrella-shaped clusters of purplish-green florets. It is also known as Calabrese, after the Italian province of Calabria, where it was first grown.

Other broccoli options are:

Broccolini: a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale.

Broccoflower: a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, comes in a single large head, like cauliflower, but is green rather than white.

Broccoli sprouts: a particularly concentrated source of sulforaphane. They're expensive, but a little goes a long way.

Availability

Most broccoli is grown in California, and it has become one of the few vegetables available fresh year-round, although it is most abundant (and least expensive) from October through May.

Packaged frozen broccoli differs slightly from fresh in nutritional makeup. While still a low-sodium food, frozen broccoli has twice as much sodium as fresh--up to 68 milligrams per 10-ounce package. It also may have slightly less of the cancer-preventing phytochemicals.

Shopping

Fresh broccoli must be picked young to be tender and delicately flavored. Left growing too long, the plant begins converting its sugar to lignin, a type of fiber that cannot be softened by cooking. (Broccoli that has been stored too long after harvesting also develops lignin.) Overly mature broccoli, no matter how it's prepared, will be tough and woody, and have an unpleasantly strong cabbage-like odor.

Examine the stalks attached to the florets; they should be on the slender side and be so crisp that if you broke one, it would snap cleanly. The florets should be tightly closed and uniformly green; yellowing florets signal that the broccoli is past its prime. Color is also a nutrition indicator: Florets that are dark green or purplish or bluish green have more beta-carotene and vitamin C than paler florets. The leaves, if any, should have good color and not appear wilted. Avoid broccoli with soft slippery spots on the florets or with stalk bottoms that are brown or slimy. Fresh broccoli has a clean, "green" smell.

Broccoli is usually sold in bunches weighing 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, which will yield about a pound when trimmed--enough to serve two people if used as a main dish, or, as a side dish, three to four.

Storage

Refrigeration slows the conversion of sugar to lignin, thereby preserving texture and flavor; keeping broccoli chilled also protects vitamin C content. Store broccoli in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper, which will provide the right balance of humidity and oxygen. Do not wash broccoli before storing; although it needs moisture to remain fresh, any water on its surface will encourage spoilage.

Fresh broccoli is at its best if used within a day or two of purchase, but it will keep for up to four days in a crisper. Once cooked, any leftovers may be refrigerated for two to three days in a tightly covered container.

Preparation

Very fresh young broccoli can be served raw as an hors d'oeuvre, or in salads. Its taste and texture, however, don't agree with all palates; in general, most people prefer broccoli cooked. Whichever way you serve the vegetable, first rinse it under cold running water.

Most people cut off and discard the leaves; however, they are eminently edible and contain even more beta-carotene than the florets. If you wish, peel the stalks--which get tougher the longer you keep the broccoli--but remove only a thin layer to preserve the nutrients.

Cooked broccoli should be tender enough so that you can pierce the stalks with a sharp knife, but it should still remain crisp and bright. You can achieve this level of doneness with any of the methods that follow; however, steaming and microwaving preserve more of the nutrients. Because the broccoli florets tend to cook much faster than the stalks, either split the stalks about halfway up or cut an X in the bottom of each stalk. Another option is to cut off the florets and add them to the pot after the stalks have cooked for two to three minutes. You can also cut both the florets and stalks into smaller pieces for fast, even cooking.

For boiling or steaming, use a non-aluminum pot or pan, since aluminum appears to heighten broccoli's cooking odors.

Boiling: Boiling broccoli, uncovered, in a large pot with plenty of water has the greatest dispersing effect on the chemical compounds released by cooking, and can thereby yield a milder taste. But boiling in a large amount of water results in a loss of vitamin C and allows about half of the indole content to escape. If you choose this method, however, bring the water to a rapid boil before adding the broccoli. Cooking time: five to seven minutes.

Microwaving: Arrange one pound of broccoli, in wheel-spoke fashion, in a microwaveable dish, with the florets pointing toward the center. Add 1/4 cup water and cover. Halfway through the cooking time, rotate the container. Cooking time: six to 10 minutes.

Steaming: Not only does steaming preserve the most nutrients, but it also keeps the florets from breaking apart. After steaming for one to two minutes, uncover the pot for 10 to 15 seconds, to disperse the strong-tasting sulfurous compounds that form in cooking. Cooking time: five to seven minutes.

Stir-frying: Stir-fry for two minutes, then add a little broth or water, cover the pan and let steam until crisp-tender. Cooking time: four to five minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Broccoli/1 cup cooked

44
Total fat (g)
0.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
4.5
5
Carbohydrate (g)
8
Sodium (mg)
41
Beta-carotene (mg)
1.3
Vitamin C (mg)
116
Vitamin E (mg)
2.6
Folate (mcg)
78
Manganese (mg)
0.3
Potassium (mg)
456


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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