Broccoli and other Crucifers

Broccoli is a member of a group of vegetables called the crucifers. Broccoli is thought to be derived from a cabbage-like relative in pre-Roman times by selective breeding. Broccoli comes from the Mediterranean region (its name derives from ‘little sprouts’ in Italian) and was eaten by the Romans.

The same common ancestor is behind cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts and Kohlrabi, and botanically all of these cruciferous vegetables are the same – they were just selectively bred hundreds of years ago to accentuate different characteristics. In the case of broccoli, the flower stalks don’t develop fully, but instead produce a proliferation of flower buds that group onto ‘spears.’ Cauliflowers are believed to have been bred from broccoli. Unlike broccoli their flower stops developing even before any flower buds are produced resulting in the characteristic white head, or ‘curd’, made up of immature flowering tissue.

So despite being the same species, the crucifers look remarkably different, in size and shape. They do, however, still share some characteristics. They have similar flowers, consisting of petals arranged in a cross shape, (the name “crucifer” is derived from the word cruciform, meaning cross-shaped). They also have characteristically strong aroma and taste, which has been behind their popularity in use in Mediterranean cuisine and subsequent spread around the world. And now we think that the compounds that are behind these tastes are what might be responsible for the observations from dietary studies that diets high in crucifers reduce risk of developing chronic disease.

These compounds are called glucosinolates and are used by the plants as a form of natural defence. The plant stockpiles glucosinolates inside its cells. When these cells are damaged, for example by insects biting into them, the glucosinolates mix with special enzymes kept separately within in the cell, breaking them down into other compounds called isothiocyanates. These deter the insects, but give broccoli and other crucifers their distinctive taste.

In broccoli, the predominant glucosinolate is called glucoraphanin, and the isothiocyanate is called sulphoraphane. In fact, broccoli is the only crucifer to have any significant quantity of glucoraphanin.  Beneforté has been bred, using traditional techniques, to be 2-3 times higher in the amount of glucoraphanin compared to standard broccoli varieties. Whilst this was done primarily because studies on glucoraphanin have shown it may reduce risks of chronic diseases, we have made sure that it hasn’t drastically altered the taste of broccoli. In fact many people prefer the taste of Beneforté.

As well as the increased levels of glucoraphanin, Beneforté also contains all of the nutrients found in standard broccoli varieties. Broccoli is high in fibre and a good source of vitamins A, C K, as well as folate and calcium.