What is sprouting broccoli

I forgot, OK? It’s easy enough to do. I sow 40 or more different vegetables, so I missed one – the one I happen to like the best.

Purple sprouting broccoli is one of the vegetable wonders of later winter. There it stands whatever the weather throws at it, and come spring it sprouts forth endless florets that have all the sweetness of a cold winter and yet the tenderness of summer to come. A wonderful vegetable, but my God does it take time to get there.

You have to sow around the end of May in modules (you can sow in the ground, but this takes up lot of space). Pot on and then plant out and wait, along with the pigeons, for the plants to take hold.

Purple sprouting broccoli (or PSB, as some prefer) is hungry. The ground needs to be rich in organic matter. I like to chuck down a handful of chicken manure pellets during late summer to boost growth just before autumn sets in and everything slows down.

You don’t need many plants, but it’s nice if you can get both early and late varieties. They need to be planted 60cm apart and work wonderfully in large pots.

That is, of course, if you’ve sown PSB: if not, then you will have to buy in young plants. And here is where I give away my secret: W Robinson & Son in Lancashire happens to do very good autumn brassicas. These are larger-than-usual plugs and come wrapped in pretty gingham paper and straw. You can pick up kales, cabbages, sprouts, leeks as well as great purple sprouting broccoli – all those things you forgot to sow. They work out at just over £1 per plant, so clearly seed is cheaper, but you will get your money’s worth.

I plant some in pots and some in the garden. These are smaller than May sowings, so can be planted 45cm apart, making them better for smaller gardens. In late autumn I top dress with homemade compost to boost fertility and protect the roots from frosts. Black cotton woven between stakes just above the broccoli works well at deterring pigeons. Pigeons like to take off immediately, so won’t walk under a random web of cotton and won’t try to land on something that looks unstable; otherwise use netting and make sure it is taut so the pigeons can’t peck through. On exposed sites, support plants with strong stakes as they get heavy.

Come spring, harvest a little from each of the plants rather than picking one individual bare. Pick before the buds open, at around 10cm long, after the first floret develops: smaller ones will start to appear around it. Eventually, I let some of these flower for the bees.


Broccoli, Brassica oleracea, variety italica, form of cabbage, of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), grown for its edible flower buds and stalk. Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, sprouting broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times and was introduced to England and America in the 1700s. High in dietary fibre and a number of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, and K, broccoli is a nutritious vegetable and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Fresh broccoli should be dark green in colour, with firm stalks and compact bud clusters.

  • broccoliBroccoli (Brassica oleracea, variety italica).© Stefanie Mohr Photography/.com
  • broccoliEdible broccoli florets (Brassica oleracea, variety italica).© Corbis

Broccoli is a fast-growing annual plant that grows 60–90 cm (24–35 inches) tall. Upright and branching with leathery leaves, broccoli bears dense green clusters of flower buds at the ends of the central axis and the branches. If left unharvested, those buds bear yellow flowers with four petals and produce silique fruits (a dry capsule). Broccoli thrives in moderate to cool climates and is propagated by seeds, either sown directly in the field or in plant beds to produce transplants. The heads, or florets, reach harvest in 60 to 150 days, depending upon the variety and the weather.

Food Facts: Broccoli’s Wild Roots


You won’t find broccoli growing in the wild. That’s because this vegetable was developed through centuries of careful plant breeding.

Broccoli’s family tree reveals something interesting. Some of our most popular vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts — are all derived from wild mustard. They are in the cruciferous family, or commonly known as cole crops. The orginal wild mustard Brassica oleracea is native to the coastal Mediterranean region, Jeanne Osnas, a researcher at Purdue University, shared on her blog Botanist in the Kitchen.

Centuries ago, farmers identified characteristics in some wild mustard plants that they wanted to keep and planted seeds from those plants, gradually emphasizing certain traits. Plants with a large terminal bud were bred to produce cabbage. Plants with desireable leaves eventually became kale, as well as collard greens and Chinese broccoli. Brussels sprouts were developed from plants with large lateral buds and the stem was developed to become kohlrabi.

In the case of broccoli, as well as cauliflower, the flowers were the focus. Broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times. The crop became popular in Europe and was introduced in the United States in the 1920s, according to Penn State Extension. Broccoli did not become a favorite until after about 1980. It is now the 11th most-consumed fresh vegetable, according to USDA, and each American eats about 6.6 pounds per year. One reason we love it is because it is nutrient-dense. One cup of broccoli provides the full daily requirements for vitamins C and K. It is also a good source of fiber, vitamin A, folate and potassium.

Growers continue to experiment with the new combinations within the cruciferous family. Broccoflower is a green cauliflower. Broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese broccoli. Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is more of a distant cousin and comes from the turnip family.

It is fascinating to realize how one type of wild mustard plant could become so many different types of vegetables, each one unique but similar to the others. Each vegetable in the cruciferous family has something to bring to the table.

  • tags:
  • kale,
  • cauliflower,
  • plant breeding,
  • broccoli,
  • cruciferous,
  • cabbage


A food production wiki for public health professionals

Key Facts

  • Broccoli is a member of the mustard family of plants and is closely related to Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi.
  • The U.S. is the 3rd largest producer of broccoli in the world, with California leading in U.S. production (90%).
  • There is currently no method to mechanically harvest broccoli, so it is harvested by hand.
  • Broccoli provides an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, chromium, and folic acid.
  • Phytonutrients are highly concentrated in broccoli, especially glucosinolates, which are under scientific investigation for their role in cancer prevention.
  • Between 1998 and 2017, at least 25 broccoli-associated outbreaks were reported to CDC’s National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), causing 371 illnesses, 9 hospitalizations, and no deaths.
  • There have been multiple broccoli and broccoli product recalls due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli (scientific name: Brassica oleracea var botrytis) is a member of the Brassicaceae plant family, also known as the mustard family. Other familiar plants in the species Brassica oleracea include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. Broccoli is a derivative of cabbage, and was selected for its edible, immature flower heads. The flower buds are green or purple, are picked before they open, and are eaten raw or cooked. Broccoli sprouts are also edible, consumed raw, and are a popular health food in the U.S.

There are two distinct forms of broccoli: sprouting broccoli, and heading broccoli. Heading broccoli is the form most commonly grown in the U.S. It is characterized by its branching cluster of green flower buds atop a thick, green flower stalk, with smaller clusters that arise like sprouts from the stem. The other form of broccoli is called sprouting broccoli and makes a dense, white curd similar to cauliflower.

Calabrese Broccoli

Broccoli originated in the Mediterranean region where it has been cultivated since Roman times, but is a relatively new crop to the U.S. The first commercial broccoli crop grown in the U.S. was started in California in 1923, but broccoli did not become a significant commercial crop in the U.S. until after World War II.

The U.S. is the 3rd largest producer of broccoli in the world. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. produced 2 billion pounds of broccoli with a value of over 800 million dollars, grown on 129,000 acres of land, in 2014. Most of the broccoli harvested in the U.S. (90%) is grown in California, and 15-20% of U.S.-produced broccoli is exported to Canada, Japan, and Taiwan.

Foodborne Outbreaks and Recalls


Between 1998 and 2017, at least 25 broccoli-associated outbreaks were reported to CDC’s National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), causing 371 illnesses, 9 hospitalizations, and no deaths. In outbreaks with a known etiology, the most commonly implicated pathogen was norovirus (60%), but outbreaks implicating broccoli were also associated with Salmonella (13%), Bacillus cereus (7%), Campylobacter (7%), Clostridium botulinum (7%), Clostridium perfringens (7%), and chemical/toxin (7%). There have also been broccoli and broccoli product recalls without any reported illnesses. Such voluntary recalls have been due to potential contamination mainly with Listeria, but also Escherichia coli.

Below are examples of outbreaks and recalls associated with broccoli reflecting the diversity of vehicles, pathogens, and other circumstances:

In 2011, Taylor Farms Inc., of California, voluntarily recalled its multiple broccoli-containing products due to potential Listeria contamination. The recall was initiated after routine sampling of broccoli yielded Listeria. Recalled products included Raley’s brand yellow curry chicken rice bowls, udon pork noodle bowls, udon chicken noodle bowls, Asian pasta toss trays, family grilled chicken penne alfredo, and grilled chicken breast with mashed potato and gravy; Taylor Farms brand snack pot penne alfredo and broccoli crunch salad kits; and SYSCO brand broccoli crunch salad kits. There were no reported illnesses. The salad kits were not available to consumers, but instead unboxed and prepared by retailers for sale at deli counters and restaurants. The products were distributed in five states.

In 2013, Taylor Farms Inc., of Maryland and Texas, voluntarily recalled its broccoli crunch with bacon and dressing salad kits due to potential contamination with Listeria. The recall was initiated due to potential Listeria contamination of the salad dressing packets. The salad kits were not typically directly available to consumers, but instead unboxed and prepared by retailers for sale at deli counters and restaurants. The product was distributed in seven states. There were no reported illnesses.

In 2015, Greystone Foods, LLC voluntarily recalled its Today’s Harvest brand frozen broccoli florets due to potential contamination with Listeria. The recall was initiated after a supplier notified the company that a non-food contact surface in its facility tested positive for Listeria. The product was distributed to Publix Supermarkets in Florida. There were no reported illnesses.

In 2016, Butterfield Foods, Inc., of Indiana, voluntarily recalled its broccoli salad kits due to potential contamination with Listeria. The recall was initiated after a distributor, SunOpta, notified the company that its sunflower kernel products used in the salad dressing product were recalled due to possible contamination. There were no reported illnesses.

In 2017, Gold Coast Packing, Inc. voluntarily recalled its bagged broccoli florets due to potential contamination with Escherichia coli O26. The product was distributed to Costco Wholesale retailers in British Columbia, Canada. There were no reported illnesses.

In 2018, GIANT Food Stores, Inc., of Pennsylvania, voluntarily recalled its Private Brand frozen broccoli cuts due to potential Listeria contamination. The recall was initiated after a supplier notified the company of possible product contamination. The product was distributed in four states. There were no reported illnesses.

In 2018, Del Monte Fresh Produce prepackaged vegetable trays sickened 250 individuals (8 hospitalization; 0 deaths) with Cyclospora cayetanensis across 4 states. The trays contained broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, and dill dip, and were distributed to multiple retailers. Investigators were unable to identify any individual component of the vegetable trays as the vehicle.


Food Production Level I

Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable and can be grown as a spring or fall crop. Seeds will germinate between 40-95°F but the optimal temperature for growth is 60-65°F, and it takes 75-140 days to grow to maturity. Broccoli is primarily planted in two ways, either by direct seeding or transplanting, with the majority of the industry using direct seeding. Seedlings that are transplanted can be started either in hotbeds or greenhouses. Broccoli is typically grown in double rows on raised beds. While it can grow in a wide range of soil types, for optimum growth the soil must be well-draining, moderately salt sensitive, nutrient dense, and have a pH between 6.0-6.5. Phosphorus and potassium may be added to the soil to meet nutrient demands. Irrigation is required to maximize yield, and is usually done with furrows and overhead sprinklers, though surface drip is also sometimes used. Weed control can be achieved with herbicides, mechanical control, and a good crop-rotation system. The most common broccoli pests include different types of caterpillars, which can be controlled using organic insecticides, synthetic insecticides, or by manually removing the worms (small crops only).

Looper Caterpillar, a common broccoli pest

Food Production Level II

The majority of broccoli is harvested year round, during the warm season it is harvested on the Central Coast of California and during the cool season it is harvested in the desert regions of California. Broccoli is harvested for fresh consumption or processing, depending on many factors such as current market value. There is currently no method to mechanically harvest broccoli, so it is harvested by hand. Fresh market broccoli is field packed. Good-quality broccoli should have dark or bright green, closed flower buds, and the head should be compact, with a cleanly cut stalk of the required length. The standard pack consists of heads that average 3 to 8 inches in diameter. Field workers either cut or snap the stems at 8 inches and place the heads on a harvest-aid belt. Two to four heads are bunched, secured with a rubber band, and then cut to a uniform 7 inches. Fourteen or eighteen bunches of broccoli are packed in a waxed-fiberboard carton that weighs a minimum of 23 pounds. Crown-cut broccoli consists of a top dome 5 to 5.5 inches in diameter, cut from the stem at 5 inches. A packed carton consists of 34 to 38 bulk- packed crowns and weighs a minimum of 20 pounds. Field-cut florets are loosely packed in tote bags and packed into cardboard cartons that weigh 9 to 18 pounds and contain three to four bags each. Broccoli destined for the freezer is also hand-harvested. The stem is cut at 6 inches, slightly shorter than for fresh market. The heads are placed on belts, then collected into large bins or trailers, and hauled to the processor.

Large bins of broccoli florets

Food Production Level III

Once harvested, broccoli must be cooled rapidly to preserve shelf life. Liquid icing of the field packed cartons is common. The optimal storage temperature is 32°F, varying outside of this temperature could negatively affect shelf life. Broccoli is extremely sensitive to exposure to ethylene, and exposure to as little as 2ppm of ethylene can reduce shelf life by 50%. Once broccoli is field packaged, the cartons are filled with slushed ice for shipping. Optimal storage life for broccoli is 21-28 days.

Food Safety

Due to Federal Government dietary recommendations and increasing popularity, consumption and production of fresh produce in the U.S. have increased. However, fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, can serve as vehicles for pathogens that cause foodborne illness, including Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli, Shigella, hepatitis A virus, norovirus, and Cyclospora cayetanensis. Human infection occurs via the fecal-oral route and there are many points along the farm-to-fork continuum at which broccoli can become contaminated with human or animal feces, either directly or indirectly.

Fresh vegetables are often minimally processed, without a ‘kill step,’ and may be peeled, sliced, chopped, shredded, cored, or trimmed with or without washing, or other treatments, prior to being packaged for use by consumers. Fresh cut vegetables are at increased risk for microbial growth and contamination. The high moisture and nutrient content of fresh vegetables, absence of a ‘kill step’ during processing, and potential for temperature abuse at many points, including processing, storage, transport, and at retail, further increase this risk. Additionally, the high degree of handling of fresh vegetables during production and processing as well as the mixing of produce items that often occurs at processing operations provide opportunities for contamination and the possibility of contaminating a large volume of product.

Broccoli may become contaminated during production, via untreated manure, contaminated water, infected workers, presence of animals, unclean conditions in the field or packing facility, or during transportation. It is important to properly maintain and sanitize equipment and food contact surfaces throughout production and processing.

It is important for growers, packers, and shippers to follow the preventative measures included in Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Good Handling Practices (GHPs), Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), and the U.S. FDA’s “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables” to help prevent microbial contamination. Due to the extensive handling of broccoli, food safety training for workers and following of proper sanitation and hygiene practices are crucial.

Consumers should follow the standard “clean, separate, cook, and chill” food safety practices when preparing broccoli. Broccoli should be stored, unwashed, in the refrigerator and consumed within 3-5 days. Broccoli should be washed with fresh, cold water prior to consumption or cooking.


Over the last 25 years, broccoli consumption has increased over 940%. The average annual per capita consumption of broccoli in the United States is 5.8 pounds.

For more information on the shelf life of broccoli, please visit the FoodKeeper App.

Broccoli provides an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, chromium, and folic acid. It is a good source of dietary fiber, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus, choline, vitamin B1, Beta-carotene, potassium, and copper. Broccoli in the diet also supplies vitamin B1, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, zinc, calcium, iron, niacin, and selenium. One cup of broccoli contains 54 calories, 0.64 grams of fat, provides 135% of the daily vitamin C requirement, and 245% of daily vitamin K requirement of a 2000-calorie per day diet. Vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and other antioxidants in broccoli are anti-inflammatory and prevent damage to the body caused by free radicals. Phytonutrients are highly concentrated in broccoli, especially glucosinolates, which are under scientific investigation for their role in cancer prevention. Recent studies have provided evidence that glucosinolates decrease the metastatic potential of lung cancer, prolong survival in patients with bladder cancer, and lower the risk of breast cancer.

    Externally Reviewed by: Richard Smith, MS Affiliation: University of California Cooperative Extension, Vegetable Crops and Weed Science Reviewed on: 9 February 2018

    UK sprouting broccoli season. Photograph: guardian.co.uk

    Like swedes and turnips or chicory and endives, broccoli and calabrese suffer from a confusion of labels. Not helping the sprouting stuff’s cause is the perception that it’s an upstart newcomer, a poshed-up version of the big-headed variety we’ve known for years. To set the record straight, brassica oleracea has been known and grown since ancient times, making the trip westwards from Asia Minor to Rome with the Etruscans (whose descendants populate modern Tuscany) where it was enthusiastically adopted and a new cultivar, calabrese, was developed.

    Sprouting broccoli and calabrese are closely related to romanesco, the third member of this ménage, a brain-teasing illustration of the fibonacci sequence and a bridge across the genetic gap which separates broccoli from cauliflower. The flowers of both stop growing before they erupt from their buds, the individual heads accordingly being known as florets. Whilst shoppers have no difficulty in distinguishing between the two, curiously the science of botany finds the task almost impossible.

    In the eyes of its many devotees, the cultivation of sprouting broccoli is the best use you can make of a vegetable patch. Solid and sensible sons and daughters of the soil can become wild-eyed at the suggestion that it’s ‘that other type of broccoli’, pointing out testily that what supermarkets call broccoli is actually calabrese and that the big grocers’ enthusiasm for it is founded on the rude economics of its longer season and relative ease of harvesting. They may go so far as to suggest darkly that there’s something sinister about calabrese’s uniformity, year-round availability and usurping of broccoli’s name on the shelves, something indicative of mass-production’s final stiff-legged march to victory.

    Whatever your feelings, the fact is that a distinction needs to be drawn. Apart from sprouting broccoli’s superiority in taste and tenderness (in the past it’s been known as the ‘poor man’s asparagus’) it’s a wonder of the wintertime whereas calabrese and romanesco are harvested in late summer and autumn.


    There are two main types, white and purple, and planting both allows the season to be stretched. Generally purple is ready earlier and white later. Our complete guide to growing your own is here.

    How to buy / what to look for

    Nice firm stems and florets. If stalks are floppy or the buds have burst and tiny flowers have formed, it’s past it.


    Particularly rich in vitamin C, and a useful source of carotenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A.


    Late January – early April


    Will keep in the fridge for a few days but doesn’t freeze well (if you have to freeze it blanch it first, but don’t expect any crispness to survive defrosting and cooking).

    Basic cooking

    Split thicker stems so they cook at the same rate as the thinner ones, wash and briefly (a couple of minutes), steam, stir-fry, or if you must, boil.

    Goes with / good in

    Pretty much any meat or fish dish. Try it steamed with lemon butter or hollandaise sauce, or raw with Camembert (take a whole cheese, remove the paper wrapping and bake it in its wooden box in a low oven for 15 minutes or so, then use raw broccoli to scoop it up with).


    Allegra McEvedy’s baked potato with sprouting broccoli, smoked salmon and crème fraîche

    Yotam Ottolenghi’s purple-sprouting broccoli with rice noodles

    Allegra McEvedy’s linguine with anchovy and purple sprouting broccoli

    Yotam Ottolenghi’s sprouting broccoli and sweet sesame

    Allegra McEvedy’s lamb chops with cumin, purple-sprouting broccoli and walnut yoghurt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *