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Star of the brassicas

Broccoli or porokori - the star of the brassicas - has strong health benefits in helping to protect us against various cancers. Let's find out a little more about this 'star' . . .

Broccoli means ‘little sprouts' in Italian. It's part of the Brassica family of vegetables which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoflower, Asian varieties of cabbage, turnips and swedes

Broccoli is the star of the brassicas, and it has certainly received the most research and media attention. The main reason it was chosen for research was because it was so popular and widely eaten. Most of this research relates to the discovery of the compounds that give broccoli a distinctive mustardy taste.

They also have strong health benefits in protecting us against various cancers. In addition to these ‘mustardy' compounds, many brassicas contain other phytochemicals that can help prevent chronic disease. Many brassicas also have antioxidant activity.

The World Cancer Research Fund has concluded that diets rich in brassicas probably protect specifically against cancers of the colon, rectum and thyroid, and when part of a diet rich in other types of vegetables, generally against other kinds of cancers too.

History

Broccoli is native to the Mediterranean and was first mentioned in France in 1520AD. When broccoli was first introduced to Britain it was call “Italian asparagus”. The name broccoli comes from the Italian ‘brocco' and the Latin ‘bracchium' which means branch, arm or shoot.

Types of broccoli

Sprouting broccoli or calabrese is the most popular variety which we commonly refer to simply as broccoli. It has dark blue-green heads with firm stalks which snap easily.

Purple broccoli tends to have smaller heads with a deep purple tinge — otherwise it is identical to sprouting broccoli.

Romanesco broccoli is a variety which has light green clusters of heads that are pointed and look a bit like coral. Supply is limited in New Zealand.

Chinese broccoli — also known as Chinese sprouting broccoli and Chinese kale (gaai laan) — has long green stems (about 2cm in diameter and 20cm long), white flowers and green leaves which have a white haze on them. The flowers should be in bud rather than in full bloom.

Growing Facts

Broccoli is easy to grow and does well in sunny spots with wind protection. In cooler areas plant from spring through to autumn.

In warmer areas plant broccoli in late summer through to spring.

Availability

All year round.

Storage and Handling

Store in the refrigerator. Handle all fresh produce with care and wash before eating.

— Information courtesy of 5+ A Day.

Broccoli is native to the Mediterranean and was first mentioned in France in 1520AD.