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Know Your Vegetables: Broccoli

Remember when you were little and your parents would tell you to eat your broccoli? Although it’s hard for us to admit it, they had a point. It may not surprise you to learn that broccoli has been is one of the healthiest foods around, but there are lots of other surprising facts about broccoli that you definitely have not heard.

Seeing as it is in season this month, we thought we’d take you on a journey through this veggie’s expansive history, highlighting where it originated and how it’s cultivated, as well as it’s numerous health benefits. Turns out, broccoli is as rich in nutrients as it is in history!

History

Broccoli history know your vegetables from Green Blender

Broccoli is a form of cabbage that first originated in Turkey, where it was cultivated by the Etruscans in the 16th century. Thanks to their trading relationship with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians, broccoli was eventually brought to Rome, where it became supremely popular, becoming a standard favorite in Rome. It was there  that they developed Calabrese type of broccoli, which is the most common variety eaten in the United States today.

Not every nation was as enthusiastic about broccoli as Italy was. It was introduced to England and France in the 1700’s and was not enjoyed. Apparently, broccoli has always been an acquired taste. Americans did not enjoy it at first either. Introduced in the 18th century, broccoli did not garner popularity until the early 1920’s thanks to the D’Arrigo brothers. Stephano D’Arrigo and Andrea D’Arrigo immigrated to America from Italy and brought their broccoli seeds with them. They grew their first crop in San Jose, California, which they shipped to Boston where it was met with success and enthusiasm. By the 1930’s their business was booming and broccoli was one of the hottest veggies on the market.

How it Grows

Growing broccoli know your vegetables from green blender

Broccoli needs cool weather, full sun, water and rich soil to grow to its full potential. It’s happiest if the soil is slightly acidic. Although broccoli is available year-round, it’s a cool season crop and thrives between January and March. Broccoli grows to about 0.75 m high, and reaches harvest in 60 to 150 days, depending upon the variety and the weather.

Nutrition

Broccoli florets know your vegetables from green blender

As one of the healthiest cruciferous vegetables around, broccoli is rich in fiber, beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and K. It also contains phytochemicals, which takes it over the edge, nutrition-wise. Phytochemicals help create immune and antioxidant support in the body by inducing enzymes that help detoxify the body and flush out carcinogens and other toxins. These important enzymes include quinone reductase and glutathione S-transferase, with sulforaphane as the major and potent enzyme inducer. Broccoli is an important source of Vitamin K, which helps to resist malignant diseases of the stomach and colon.

Benefits

steamed broccoli know your vegetables from green blender

Broccoli is rich in both insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which are necessary for your best digestion. Not only does broccoli’s high fiber content keep you feeling full, but it also helps lower cholesterol. This is especially true when it is steamed. Steaming causes the fiber-related components in broccoli to bind together with bile acids in your digestive tract. The bile acids are then excreted and your cholesterol benefits.

Broccoli is believed to protect against numerous forms of cancer, because of its abundance of phytochemicals, insoles and isothiocyanates, which are prevalent in high amounts in cruciferous vegetables. Its beta-carotene and vitamin A and C content also aid in cancer prevention, as well as protecting against heart disease, keeps eyes healthy, boosting immune system and promoting healthy skin, bones, and teeth

Broccoli is also believed to be a great detoxifier, because it contains three glucosinolate polynutrients, glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, and glucobrassicin. These three polynutrients are found in a special combination in broccoli which enables them to support activation, neutralization, and the elimination of toxins in the body. In addition to that beneficial trio, broccoli also contains isothiocyanates, which are detox-regulating molecules made from broccoli’s glucosinolates, and they help control the detox process at a genetic level.

Fun Facts

Fun facts broccoli know your vegetables from green blender

  • Broccoli comes in a variety of colors, ranging from deep sage all the way to dark green and purplish-green.
  • Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of broccoli and is responsible for importing the seeds from Italy to the United States, planting them at Monticello.
  • California produces 90% of our nations broccoli.
  • When first introduced to England, broccoli was called “Italian asparagus.”
  • Broccoli consumption has increased over 940% over the last 25 years.
  • Broccoli contains as much calcium ounce per ounce as milk