Broccoli (from the Italian plural of broccolo, referring to
"the flowering top of a cabbage") is a plant of the
mustard/cabbage family Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae).
It is classified in the Italica cultivar group of the
species Brassica oleracea. Broccoli has large flower heads,
usually green in color, arranged in a tree-like fashion on
branches sprouting from a thick, edible stalk.
The mass of flower heads is surrounded by leaves. Many
varieties of broccoli are perennial. Broccoli most closely
resembles cauliflower, which is a different cultivar group
of the same species.
Broccoli evolved from a wild
cabbage plant on the continent of Europe. Indications point
to the vegetable's being known 2,000 years ago. Since the
Roman Empire, broccoli has been considered a uniquely
valuable food among Italians. Broccoli was first introduced
to the United States by these immigrants, but did not become
widely known until the 1920s.
Broccoli is usually
boiled or steamed, but may be eaten raw and has become
popular as a raw vegetable in hors d'œuvre trays. Although
boiling has been shown to reduce the levels of suspected
anti-cancer compounds in broccoli, other preparation methods
such as steaming, microwaving, lactic fermentation, and
stir-frying have not been shown to reduce the presence of
There are three commonly grown
types of broccoli. The most familiar is called "calabrese"
in Great Britain and simply "broccoli" in North America. It
has large (10 to 20 cm) green heads and thick stalks and is
named after Calabria in Italy. It is a cool season annual
Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many
thin stalks. It is planted in May to be harvested during the
winter or early the following year in temperate climates.
The heirloom variety "calabrese" available in North America
is of this type.
Romanesco broccoli has a distinctive
fractal appearance of its heads, and is yellow-green in
colour. It is technically in the Botrytis (cauliflower)
Purple cauliflower is a type of broccoli sold in southern
Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It has a head shaped
like cauliflower, but consisting of tiny flower buds. It
sometimes, but not always, has a purple cast to the tips of
the flower buds.
Other cultivar groups of Brassica oleracea include cabbage (Capitata
Group), cauliflower (Botrytis Group), kale and collard
greens (Acephala Group), kohlrabi (Gongylodes Group), and
Brussels sprouts (Gemmifera Group). Chinese broccoli (Alboglabra
Group) is also a cultivar group of Brassica oleracea.
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