Broccoli 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)

This is an update to my original post on Broccoli 101 – The Basics. This post has expanded, more comprehensive information about broccoli. However, the original post has a lot of valuable information, so please check it out too!


Broccoli 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)

About Broccoli
Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables in the cruciferous family and is enjoyed worldwide in many different cuisines. It is a member of the Brassica family of plants, and is related to many other popular vegetables such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and Brussels sprouts.

The most popular variety of broccoli forms a “head,” referring to a flowering portion of the plant. This is the part of the plant we commonly refer to as the “florets.” If the plant is left to mature, the florets (head) would develop flowers that eventually produce seeds. Non-heading varieties of broccoli produce florets throughout the plant at the ends of the shoots. Broccoli varieties can range in color from deep sage to dark green to purplish green.

From what we understand, broccoli had its origins as a type of wild cabbage. Through centuries of selective planting, it was developed into the varieties that we are familiar with today. It is now grown in virtually all continents around the world and is especially diverse and plentiful in the Mediterranean area of Europe, the central and western parts of Asia, and the western half of North America. Almost all of the broccoli produced commercially in the United States is grown in California, followed by Arizona. Broccoli imported to America mostly comes from Mexico.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Broccoli is exceptionally high in many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It is an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, chromium and folate. It also supplies a lot of fiber, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus, choline, Vitamin B1, Vitamin A, potassium, copper, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, zinc, calcium, iron, niacin, and selenium. One cup of cooked broccoli has as much Vitamin C as an orange. It is also very low in calories, with one cup having only 31 calories. It is truly a powerhouse of nutrition!

In addition to its long list of vitamins and minerals, broccoli is concentrated with an array of phytonutrients which are key to its important health-promoting benefits.

Anti-Cancer Connection. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are particularly high in glucosinolates, which are converted into a group of compounds called isothiocyanates. These compounds are known to help shut down the inflammatory process. Sulforaphane is one of the well-known isothiocyanates known to squelch the inflammatory process, providing powerful health benefits.

There are other compounds in broccoli that work together synergistically providing potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, helping to reduce our risk for assorted types of cancer. Laboratory animal and test tube studies have shown sulforaphane to reduce both the size and number of cancer cells. Population studies have found that people who have a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables have a significantly lower cancer rate than those who eat less cruciferous vegetables.

It is noteworthy that sulforaphane is only activated through enzyme interaction when the vegetable is cut or chewed. Also, raw mature broccoli has more sulforaphane potential than lightly steamed broccoli. Broccoli sprouts have been found to have many times more of the health-boosting phytonutrients, including sulforaphane, than mature broccoli. To learn how to grow your own broccoli sprouts, see my video …

Detoxification. In conjunction with the anti-cancer benefits of broccoli, it also has detoxification properties. Compounds in broccoli have been shown to improve Phase 2 of our detoxification process, which also helps to reduce our risk for cancer. The amount of broccoli shown to produce this effect is from 1 to 2 cups per day.

The vast blend of compounds in broccoli makes it a unique food in terms of cancer prevention. Oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and inadequate detoxification are well-documented connections to the development of cancer. Research has shown that broccoli has compounds that fight all three of those problems, thereby making it a highly valuable food in the fight against cancer. Even though 1 to 2 cups of broccoli a day may be ideal, researchers have found benefit with as little as ½ cup of broccoli daily. Even a 2-cup serving twice a week is enough to offer valuable benefits.  So, “the moral of the story” is…Eat your broccoli, whenever you can, as much as you can!

Cardiovascular Support. Recent studies have shown that broccoli can lower LDL cholesterol levels, decreasing our risk for heart disease. A recent study showed that as little as 1/3 cup of broccoli per day for 3 months lowered LDL cholesterol in subjects by 2.5 percent. Both raw and steamed broccoli showed cholesterol-lowering effects, although a stronger LDL-lowering effect was found with steamed broccoli.

Broccoli is also high in Vitamin B6 and folate, both of which are important nutrients in lowering homocysteine levels. Having lower homocysteine levels is associated with lowered risk for atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart attack.

Eye Health. Lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids found in significant amounts in broccoli, are especially important for eye health. Low levels of these compounds can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration, both raising our risk for vision loss. Therefore, eating broccoli on a regular basis can help to prevent eye issues that can lead to vision loss over time.

Diabetes Risk. A human study reported in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, showed significantly reduced insulin resistance in subjects with Type 2 diabetes who ate broccoli sprouts daily for one month.

Healthy Digestion. Broccoli is high in fiber and antioxidants, both of which support healthy digestive function and the gut microbiome. Nutrients, such as those found in broccoli, have been found to promote reduced levels of inflammation in the colon along with favorable changes in the gut bacteria.

Brain Support. Some of the compounds in broccoli may slow mental decline and support healthy brain function. A study with 960 older adults showed that one serving a day of dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, helped to resist mental decline associated with aging. Animal studies showed that a compound in broccoli, kaempferol, lowered the incidence of brain injury and reduced inflammation following a stroke-like event. Another animal study showed that mice treated with sulforaphane had significant brain tissue recovery and reduced inflammation after a brain injury or toxic exposure.

Most of the current research on the effects of compounds found in broccoli on brain health are limited to animal studies. However, they are promising and may lead to further human studies.

Other Benefits of Broccoli. There are numerous other potential benefits of eating broccoli on a regular basis. The high Vitamin C level in broccoli supports a healthy immune system. The antioxidants found in broccoli, especially sulforaphane, may help to slow the aging process. Some of the compounds found in broccoli have been shown to support dental and oral health. Vitamin C, calcium, and kaempferol, a flavonoid found in broccoli, appear to play a role in preventing periodontal disease. Sulforaphane in broccoli may also reduce the risk for oral cancers. Broccoli is high in Vitamin K, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C, all of which are nutrients vital for maintaining strong bones. Researchers have extensively studied the health benefits of broccoli and its components, and are finding new implications regularly. Joint health, pregnancy support, and skin health are also among the areas being studied.

How to Select Broccoli
Look for bright green heads of broccoli with tightly clustered florets. The more open the florets, the older the broccoli is. The florets should be uniformly colored with no yellowing. Look for firm, strong stalks (flimsy stalks that bend are older and becoming dehydrated). Broccoli should feel heavy for its size. Any attached leaves should be vibrant in color and not wilted.

How to Store Fresh Broccoli
Do not wash fresh broccoli until you are ready to use it. Store it in the refrigerator. It may be stored in a plastic bag if you plan to use it quickly. However, for the longest storage life, place it in a container with a lid, with the bottom lined with a paper towel or clean cloth. That will absorb any moisture released by the broccoli, preventing it from sitting in water. At the same time, the cloth or paper towel will help to maintain a humid environment when it becomes damp from the moisture released by the broccoli. This will help to keep it from dehydrating. Use your fresh broccoli within 7 days.

How to Prepare Fresh Broccoli
Rinse fresh broccoli when you’re ready to use it. If it has started to dehydrate (get limp) in the refrigerator, it may be soaked in cold water for about 10 minutes to help crisp it back up.

The florets may be cooked whole or cut into smaller pieces, depending upon how you plan to use them. Of course, the smaller pieces will cook faster than the whole florets.

The stalks are often cut off and discarded. This is unfortunate, because they are edible and taste just like the florets. The outer edges of the stalks me be somewhat “woody.” If they are, the outer, tough area may be trimmed away (and discarded) either with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Then simply cut the stalks into desired size pieces, roughly the same size as the florets and cook them along with the florets.

Fresh broccoli may be eaten raw or cooked and used in just about any way imaginable: steamed, boiled, stir-fried, stir-steamed, roasted, added to casseroles, soups, stews, salads, smoothies, and juices. The use for broccoli is limited only to your imagination!

How to Preserve Fresh Broccoli
There is a trend today among some people to simply wash, chop, and place vegetables in the freezer without being pretreated first. Although this method does save time, it is appropriate for some vegetables (such as onions and bell peppers), but not for all. Broccoli is one of the vegetables that should be pretreated first to stop the enzyme activity that will cause the vegetable pieces to continue to age while in the freezer. If you insist on freezing broccoli without pretreating it, be sure to label it with the current date and use it within three months for best quality. Pretreating your broccoli first to disable the enzymes, will allow you to keep your broccoli for much longer with a better quality, up to about a year. It will be edible beyond that but the quality will dwindle over time.

Freezing Broccoli (Blanching). First wash the broccoli, and cut the florets into desired size pieces. The stems may be frozen, but first remove the woody area along the outer edges, then cut the stems into desired size pieces, comparable to the size of the florets. If you prefer larger pieces, it is best if all of the florets are no more than one inch across and stems are no longer than five inches.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Place your prepared broccoli in the boiling water and set your timer right away. Allow smaller pieces to blanch (remain in the hot water) for 3 minutes. If your pieces are very large, they will need to remain in the water for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Once the timer has finished, immediately transfer the broccoli to a large bowl of ice water. Allow the broccoli to chill in the cold water for as long as it was in the hot water. Then drain the broccoli well and transfer it to freezer bags or containers. To prevent it from freezing in a large lump, you could first spread your blanched broccoli pieces on a tray and place that in the freezer. When the pieces are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag or container. Label the container with the current date, and return them to the freezer. Use your broccoli within 12 months for best quality.

For a video demonstration on how to blanch broccoli, watch this video…

Freezing Broccoli (Steaming). Fresh broccoli may also be preserved by steaming it first, instead of water blanching. Prepare your broccoli as detailed above. Place a steamer basket in a pot (that has a lid) and add water to a level that will not rise above the bottom of the steaming basket when the water boils. Bring the water to boil. Add the broccoli pieces and place the lid on the pot. Set the timer for 4 minutes if the pieces are small, or 5 minutes if the pieces are large. When the timer is finished, transfer the steamed broccoli pieces to a large bowl of ice water and follow the same procedure as detailed above for chilling and freezing your broccoli.

Dehydrating Fresh Broccoli: Broccoli florets may be dehydrated. The stems may remain a bit tough with dehydration, so it is only recommended to dehydrate the florets. Blanch and cool your broccoli pieces as detailed above. They may either be water blanched or steam blanched. Once the broccoli pieces have been cooled, spread them on your dehydrator mesh tray. Follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s directions for the length of time and temperature for proper dehydration with your machine.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Broccoli
* Try raw broccoli served with a dip or hummus.

* Add broccoli, raw or cooked, to your next green salad.

* Try roasting broccoli with cauliflower, flavored with olive oil and garam masala.

* Add broccoli to your next breakfast omelet or quiche.

* For a quick pasta dish, toss cooked pasta with some olive oil, pine nuts, and steamed broccoli. Season with a pinch of garlic powder, parsley and oregano. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

* Try making “broccoli rice.” Simply place chopped raw broccoli in a food processor. Pulse until the broccoli is in small, rice-like pieces. Then briefly sauté it in a skillet like you would make fried rice.

* Try adding some frozen and thawed chopped broccoli along with some shredded cheddar cheese to your next batch of corn bread. The bread will be moist and flavorful.

* If your raw broccoli has started to get limp, soak it in cold water for about 10 minutes and it will crisp back up.

* Make a broccoli dip by blending steamed broccoli, yogurt, chives or green onions, paprika, and fresh garlic. Use it as a dip for raw vegetables like carrots, celery, bell peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini.

* Try steamed broccoli topped with your favorite hummus.

* For some citrus-flavored broccoli, stir-steam broccoli in a little orange juice with a pinch of orange zest. Add some crushed red pepper flakes or black pepper for extra “zing.”

* Make your broccoli with a Mediterranean flare. Top steamed broccoli with a little marinara sauce and sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese or shredded mozzarella.

* Make a salad with lightly steamed broccoli, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, olive oil and red wine vinegar.

* Try a stir-fry with broccoli, red bell peppers, and sesame oil. Top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

* Make delicious side dish by roasting broccoli pieces flavored with olive oil, salt and pepper. When it’s finished, drizzle it with a little lemon juice, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Broccoli
Basil, capers, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, coriander, curry powder, dill, marjoram, mustard (seeds, powder), oregano, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, sage, salt, savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric

Foods That Go Well with Broccoli
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (esp. cannellini, green, white), beef, cashews, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, flax seeds, ham, hazelnuts, mung bean sprouts, nuts (in general), peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pork, pumpkin seeds, sausage, seafood, sesame seeds, soybeans, tahini, tofu, walnuts

Vegetables: Bell peppers, cauliflower, chiles, chives, garlic, ginger, greens (in general), leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, shallots, spinach, squash (summer and winter), tomatoes, watercress

Fruits: Avocado, coconut, lemon, lime, olives, orange

Grains and Grain Products: Bread crumbs, bulgur, noodles and pasta (in general), quinoa, rice, seitan, wheat berries

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter and browned butter, cheese (in general, esp. feta, cheddar, goat, Parmesan), coconut milk, cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Mayonnaise, miso, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. olive, peanut, sesame, walnut), sauces (esp. Hollandaise), soy sauce, stock, tamari, vinaigrette, vinegar (esp. balsamic, rice, tarragon), wine (dry white)

Broccoli has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Casseroles, crepes, crudités, curries, egg dishes (custards, omelets, quiches), gratins, guacamole, hummus, pizzas, baked potatoes (toppings), salads (i.e., green, pasta, tomato, vegetable), sauces, slaws, soufflés, soups (esp. broccoli, creamy), stews, stir-fries, tempura

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Broccoli
Add broccoli to any of the following combinations…

Almonds + Citrus Fruits + Garlic
Almonds + Mushrooms
Almonds + Romano Cheese
Basil + Garlic + Olive Oil + Parmesan Cheese + Walnuts
Bell Peppers + Capers + Olives
Bell Peppers + Mozzarella Cheese
Chiles + Garlic + Ginger + Lime + Olive Oil
Chiles + Garlic + Olive Oil
Chiles + Garlic + Orange (juice, zest)
Feta Cheese + Mint + Red Onions
Flax Seeds + Lemon
Garlic + Ginger + Sesame Oil/Seeds + Tamari
Garlic + Lemon + Olive Oil + Chili Pepper Flakes
Garlic + Lemon + Tahini
Ginger + Orange
Lemon + Parsley
Lime + Noodles + Peanuts
Onions + Orange
Orange + Parmesan Cheese + Tomatoes
Red Onions + Yogurt
Rice Vinegar + Sesame Oil + Sesame Seeds + Soy Sauce or Tamari

Recipe Links
Cook Frozen Broccoli (Not Mushy)

How to Steam Broccoli

How to Blanch Broccoli

Easily Cut Fresh Broccoli with Less Mess

How to Grow Broccoli Sprouts

Lemon-Garlic Broccoli (NOT Mushy! Using Frozen Broccoli)

35+ Of Our Best Broccoli Recipes

27 Broccoli Recipes You’ll Want to Make Tonight

Broccoli Soup

50 of the Best Broccoli Recipes We’ve Ever Tasted

15 Best Broccoli Recipes

11 Best Broccoli Recipes/Easy Broccoli Recipes

Beef with Broccoli

Broccoli Recipes

Simple and Satisfying Broccoli

10 Family-Friendly Broccoli Recipes

Sweet and Sour Cod with Cabbage and Broccoli

Asian-Flavored Broccoli with Tofu

Seriously, The Best Broccoli of Your Life

33 Amazing Broccoli Recipes Even Broccoli Haters Can’t Hate

15 Favorite Broccoli Recipes

Broccoli Cornbread with Cheese

Our 15 Best Broccoli Salad Recipes


The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. 3rd ed. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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