Eat your veggies. That’s what doctors, nutritionists, and parents the world over have been saying for decades. And clearly they were onto something as research continues to uncover new ways that vegetables can help improve human health and allow people to thrive.
While leafy greens like spinach and kale often make the top 10 list of must-haves, you can’t really go wrong in the produce section. Two of the most versatile, nutritious, and delicious options still are considered to be broccoli and cauliflower.
These two veggies are somewhat similar in the way they are grown and can be used in copious dishes, but they also each have some distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another.
More about broccoli
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family, the same family as cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, and yes, cauliflower. The word broccoli is derived from the Latin term “brachium,” which translates to “arm” or “branch,” and is quite fitting since the vegetable features cross-shaped stems that look like tiny trees.
Broccoli can be traced to ancient Rome, where it was a very popular food item. Eventually it spread outward to France and England before being commercially grown in the U.S. beginning around the early 1920s. Today it’s used in everything from roasts to salads to stir-fry dishes, and its versatility has helped it remain popular over time.
Types of broccoli
Broccoli is no one-trick pony. In fact, there are a few different varieties and relatives, all of which offer their own unique tastes and characteristics.
- Broccoli rabe, or rapini: This version doesn’t grow in the familiar tree-shaped heads, but rather in long, thin stems that feature smaller florets on the ends. It has a slightly bitter, almost mustard-like flavor that sets it apart.
- Chinese broccoli: This type, also called gai lan, looks like a cross between broccoli and kale, featuring long stems topped with a small head of broad, bluish green leaves. It’s also slightly more bitter and is used often in Asian-style dishes, many with oyster sauce to balance the taste.
- Broccoflower: This hybrid is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli and comes with a lighter green color and much more densely packed heads, but the same familiar broccoli taste.
- Broccolini: Also known as baby broccoli, this is a trademarked name for a cross between kale and broccoli that produces a long stem with tiny florets at its top. It has a more palatable taste, and is often prepared as a side dish, like asparagus.
The nutrition of broccoli
Broccoli isn’t just delicious, it’s also filled with excellent nutritional content that can have a dramatic impact on health and wellness. In order to get the most value from broccoli, it should be eaten raw, which preserves the highest potential of the nutrients.
While cooked broccoli is still very good for the body, the cooking process can destroy some of the antioxidants that are naturally found within it. Right after frying, boiling is the worst option, taking as much as 90 percent of the important nutrients from the vegetable. Steaming, roasting, microwaving, and stir-frying are better choices when you want to cook it.
Here’s just some of the nutritional content you can expect from broccoli:
- Vitamin C: Broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, and one serving provides 135 percent of the suggested daily intake. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant known for warding off diseases and preventing the signs of aging. That means it could help promote younger looking skin since it’s the main vitamin needed to help form collagen, which supports elasticity.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for effective blood clotting and bone strength. One serving of broccoli comes with an impressive 245 percent of the daily suggested value.
- Fiber: High fiber intake helps promote better digestion and improved stomach and gut health; as well, it has been shown to lower the risks of developing heart disease, stroke, and other heart-related health problems. Every serving of broccoli provides 21 percent of the daily recommended value.
- Potassium: This essential mineral supports proper nerve function and better heart health, and broccoli is packed with it.
- B vitamins: Broccoli is dense with important B vitamins, each of which promote alertness and stronger metabolic function because they readily convert the food you eat into usable energy.
- Folate: This compound is vital for pregnant women because it encourages the development of fetuses by producing and maintaining the population of new cell growth.
- Sulforaphane: This compound can help encourage the production of enzymes that help protect blood vessels and promote better heart health. In particular, it can reverse some of the damage that diabetes does to the cardiovascular system.
These are just a few of the important nutrients found in broccoli. No matter how this vegetable is enjoyed, it can help promote better health and wellness.
Ways to eat broccoli
Here are a few of Thrive Market’s favorite recipes featuring broccoli and broccolini, whether they’re roasted, sauteed, or stir-fried.
This recipe pulls out all the stops, tossing the vegetable with lemon zest, garlic, red pepper flakes, almonds, and parmesan cheese before baking it to tender perfection.
Here’s another way to roast broccolini, with a Japanese presentation. The use of coconut aminos, nori, and sesame dresses up the vegetable beautifully and makes it taste gourmet.
For a tasty and complete meal, try this savory stir-fry dish, which matches up the long broccolini stalks with lean flank steak and carrots. Adding in coconut aminos, beef bone broth, red wine vinegar, and ginger really makes the flavors pop.
Here’s a creative way to use sauteed broccolini. After cooking and letting it cool, combine with some cherry tomatoes and pour over a dressing made of coconut vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, chives, and honey.
More about cauliflower
Broccoli’s close cousin cauliflower is gaining some significant attention in the health community recently thanks to the numerous health benefits it can provide, especially when used as an alternative to carb-rich foods. It’s especially popular in Europe, tying with cabbage as the most frequently consumed vegetable in 10 western European countries.
Like broccoli, it easily fits into a variety of dishes, and can be roasted, stir-fried, or pulverized to provide a healthier substitute for mashed potatoes, white rice, even pizza crust.
The nutrition of cauliflower
Cauliflower refutes the myth that you must eat only “colorful” vegetables in order to receive maximum nutrition. Although it’s void of color, it’s still full of plenty important vitamins, minerals, and other healthful compounds.
- Vitamin C: Not quite as rich in vitamin C as broccoli, cauliflower still provides about 73 percent of the daily recommended value per serving. In addition to being a potent antioxidant, it’s also anti-inflammatory in nature, which can help provide relief from arthritis, joint pain, and other related conditions.
- Vitamin K: Each serving of cauliflower also brings with it 19 percent of the daily recommended allowance of this vitamin, which the body uses to build stronger bones and provide optimal bone density.
- B vitamins: Cauliflower provides numerous B vitamins including B2 and B3. As mentioned above, B vitamins can help improve metabolic function and energy levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Cauliflower is one of only a few vegetables that delivers omega-3’s. These can have a positive impact on heart health as well as on proper brain function.
- Protein: Very few plants provide protein, but cauliflower is among them, offering five percent of the daily recommended value in each serving. Protein is needed for proper muscular health and cell creation.
- Choline: This plant-based compound has been seen to help promote stronger cellular membranes and has been connected to improved memory, better nerve impulses, and a number of other mental functions.
As with broccoli, the best way to ensure that you get the full nutritional benefits from cauliflower is to eat it raw or to cook it in some way other than frying or boiling, which reduces the nutritional content dramatically.
Ways to eat cauliflower
Can cauliflower actually taste like meat? It can if you braise it, like this dish shows. Place a whole head in a pot with a jar of tomato sauce, chili powder, paprika, olives, olive oil, and vinegar, and the vegetable will soak in all the Mediterranean flavors while becoming tender.
Grain-free cooking starts with cauliflower, which can provide a substitute for rice in a number of dishes like this one (try it as a sub for couscous, too). Here, use it as a base and top with roasted salmon and sauteed veggies as well as a heap of spices.
While pasta tastes great all on its own, adding in some cauliflower can make it stand out and provide more nutrition. This dish roasts cauliflower with olive oil and red pepper flakes, and then places it on a bed of gluten-free noodles with an indulgent pine nut-parmesan sauce.
Which is better: broccoli or cauliflower?
So which is the better choice—broccoli or cauliflower? The fact is that either one is an excellent pick when adding more vegetables to your diet, and it simply may come down to taste preference or usage in a recipe.
While cauliflower has a slightly nuttier taste and can be pulverized for a number of adaptations, broccoli can sometimes be a bit more bitter and has less creative range. Try adding both to your nutrition plan to ensure your body gets everything it needs to function well.