Broccoli: from Ancient Greece to our tables

Brassica oleracea italica – broccoli, for short, is a type of cabbage from the Mediterranean area and dates back to the long-gone times of Ancient Greece.

Back in the mid-1700’s, it was introduced to the Great Britain by Italian immigrants and was frequently called “Italian asparagus”. In some Nordic countries, broccoli is still referred to as “asparagus kale”. It is very popular in practically all the world’s cuisines, from the oh-so-traditional French cuisine to the flavourful Asian gastronomies.

The (many) benefits of broccoli

Poor in calories and rich in fibre, it’s an excellent ally in weight control. It is very rich in vitamin C, but contains important amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K and folic acid, too. It has also significant amounts of many other vitamins and minerals, from iron to magnesium.

As such, the effects of broccoli consumption in human health have been extensively researched, and the results are promising. The consumption of broccoli has been linked to a higher degree of protection against distinct types of cancer – for example breast, prostate, stomach or bladder cancers. Many substances present in this healthy vegetable are being studied for their anti-inflammatory properties, for their effects on the control of blood sugar levels, in reducing “bad” cholesterol and promoting “good” cholesterol, and even for the part they play on maintaining cognitive function and possible tissue rejuvenation. Wow.

Broccoli is part of a model family

A model family

Don’t think this is the only prodigy in the great cabbage family.

Its cousins are very well-known for their health benefits, too. We are talking about cauliflower, brussels sprouts or kale.

What can we say? It’s a case of good genetics.

Broccoli varieties

There are three main varieties:

  • Calabrese

    Usually called just “broccoli”, it is the most common variety and its colour is dark green.

  • Purple broccoli

    Also called purple cauliflower, resembles a cauliflower with purple florets. This variety is common in Northern Europe and might be hard to find in other countries.

  • Broccoli sprouts

    Popularly called bimi or broccolini, are dark green in colour and look like a kind of smaller broccoli florets with long thin stalks. This variety is recent and results from the crossing between regular broccoli and Chinese kale (gai lan).

How to cook broccoli?

Broccoli has become immensely popular, in part due to its versatility when cooked. It can be enjoyed by steaming it (with just a light seasoning), as a healthy side dish, in soups, in salads, in a delicious stir-fry, on a pizza or even in flavourful patties.

Don’t restrict your imagination when it comes to this healthy vegetable! Enjoy it in a salad with goat cheese or pair it with some blue cheese and make a creamy soup, add some béchamel and make a delicious gratin… Already hungry?