But if your potassium levels are low, need an iron boost, a vitamin C fix, or need to add some fiber to your diet, add broccoli to your grocery cart. Rich in vitamin A, calcium, carotene, and anti-oxidants broccoli has only 22 calories per ½ cup when chopped and cooked. Today, we can appreciate broccoli’s high nutritional value. Its history as a preferred source of nutrition has existed since the Roman Empire.
Commonly known as cole crops, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are all derived from the same plant, the wild mustard or Brassica oleracea, native to the coastal Mediterranean region. Ancient farmers recognized different characteristics in wild mustards, gradually developing certain traits. Plants with large terminal buds became cabbage. Plants with desirable leaves became kale and collards. Large lateral buds were developed into Brussels sprouts and the stem became kohlrabi. In the case of broccoli, as well as cauliflower, the flowers were the focus.
In ancient times broccoli was a hard sell. In fact, it was so obscure that food historians find little written mention of its early beginnings. Throughout history, the mention of broccoli seems to drop out of the historical accounts for long periods of time, suggesting that it was so unpopular that it was simply not in use during those times.
The Etruscans, who were considered horticultural geniuses, came from what is now Turkey. Through centuries of careful plant breeding they were the first to cultivate broccoli. During the 8th c BCE they began their migration to Italy, actively trading with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians along the way. Their broccoli cultivation spread throughout the region and eventually reached Rome when they settled in what is now Tuscany.
The Italians and the Roman Empire were almost immediately hooked on broccoli during the 1st c CE. It became a standard favorite in Rome where the variety Calabrese was developed. It is still the most common variety in the United States today. Before Calabrese, the Romans were eating a purple sprouting broccoli. The Romans served broccoli cooked with wine, chopped onions, flavored with herbs and with all sorts of creamy sauces.
The first mention of broccoli in French history is in 1560. The French showed little enthusiasm. When broccoli arrived in England in the Early 18th c it was described as “Italian asparagus”. No one rolled out the welcome mat.
Thomas Jefferson, a collector of new seeds to arrive in the United States, recorded his experiments in planting broccoli in 1767. It wasn’t until 1775 that a John Randolph from Virginia wrote “the stems will eat like asparagus and the heads like cauliflower.” With that “encouraging” description broccoli was met with a lack of interest in the United States. The one exception was the early Italian immigrants who grew broccoli in their home gardens.
Broccoli did not become popular until the D’Arrigo brothers, immigrants from Italy, came to the United States in the early 1920s along with their broccoli seeds. They began with trial plantings in San Jose, California. After their first crop, they shipped a few crates to Boston.
Though some folks devoured it with delight, others gave it a definite thumbs down. The New Yorker magazine even published a cartoon of a mother trying to convince her child to eat broccoli. The caption read:
“It’s broccoli, dear.”
“I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.”
The D’Arrigo brothers did finally achieve success and established a prosperous broccoli business with the brand name Andy Boy, named after a 2 year old son, Andrew. They advertised by featuring ads for broccoli on a radio program. By the 1930s the country was having a love affair with broccoli. People were convinced that broccoli was a newly developed vegetable.
Zel and Ruben Allen, Broccoli: The Crown Jewel of Nutrition
Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, The History of Broccoli
Bestfoodfacts.org, Food Facts :Broccoli’s Wild Roots
Contributed by Sharon Cholewa