Broccoli History

This Edible Flower is Related to the Cabbage

broccoli, history, recipes, vegetables, receipts
Broccoli. © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Broccoli seems to be one of those vegetables you either love or you hate. Broccoli haters usually cite a strong flavor and aroma as the cause, which may be due to the fact it is related to cabbage (but there are ways to tame the smell of this giant green flower with cooking tips and recipe techniques). Like the artichoke, broccoli is essentially a large edible flower. The stalks and flower florets are eaten both raw and cooked and have a flavor reminiscent of cabbage.

Broccoli is related to not only cabbage but also kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The bitter leaves are usually discarded, although some cooks do enjoy them prepared in the manner of chard or kale. 

The History of Broccoli

Broccoli, botanically known as Brassica oleracea italica, is native to the Mediterranean. It was engineered from a cabbage relative by the Etruscans--an ancient Italian civilization who lived in what is now Tuscany--who were considered to be horticultural geniuses. Its English name, broccoli, is derived from the Italian word broccolo, which means "the flowering crest of a cabbage," and the Latin bracchium meaning arm, branch or shoot.

Broccoli has been considered a very valuable food by the Italians since the Roman Empire. When first introduced in England in the mid-18th century, broccoli was referred to as "Italian asparagus." There are records of Thomas Jefferson, who was an avid gardener, experimenting with broccoli seeds brought over from Italy in the late 1700s.

Although commercial cultivation of broccoli dates back to the 1500s, it did not become a popular foodstuff in the United States until Southern Italian immigrants brought it over in the early 1920s. Due to the many ways it can be cooked, as well as all of the health benefits, broccoli has tripled in consumption over the past 30 years.


The large head and thick stalk broccoli we are most familiar with is Calabrese broccoli (named after Calabria, Italy), although it is labeled simply broccoli. Even though it is available in stores year-round, it is a cold-weather crop. There is another variety with several thin stalks and heads called sprouting broccoli. You may also come across Romanesco broccoli which is tightly packed in a cone shape and is a bright green color. 

If you like broccoli, you may want to try broccolini, also called baby broccoli, which is a cross between broccoli and kale. You may also find appealing broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. 

Broccoli is rich in calcium and has anti-oxidant properties which help prevent some forms of cancer. The same sulfur that can cause gas from over-cooked broccoli also has beneficial antiviral and antibiotic properties.

More About Broccoli and Broccoli Recipes

Learn about how to buy and store broccoli, as well as broccoli measures and substitutions before delving into the broccoli recipes.