As the leading member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, the word “broccoli” means “branch” or “arm” for the cross-shaped stems, like mini trees bearing the blossoms. Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale also are crucifers.
A popular food of the ancient Romans, broccoli once grew wild on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Its use can be traced to 16th century France and England in the 1700s, with commercial growth beginning in the U.S. in the 1920s.
Broccoli has branched out, so to speak, to a number of its closest relatives: Broccoli raab doesn’t have the tree-like “heads” we’re used to, but resembles broccoli florets on long, thin stems. Its cousin, broccoli rapini, has fewer florets and a mustard-like flavor. Broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, is pale green with densely packed heads like cauliflower, but tastes like broccoli. Chinese broccoli has broad, glossy, blue-green leaves with long, crisp, thick stems and a small head. If you run across Broccolini (baby broccoli), it’s a trademarked name for a broccoli and Chinese kale hybrid, with a long, juicy stem topped with tiny florets
Health Benefits of Broccoli
Eaten raw, broccoli has a number of nutritional elements. It’s important to note that broccoli is best when eaten raw, because cooking and processing destroys some of its antioxidants. It has twice the vitamin C of an orange, almost as much calcium as whole milk (with a better rate of absorption), and contains anti-cancer and anti-viral properties with its selenium content.