What Is Broccoli?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes


The Spruce Eats / Abby Mercer

Often reviled by kids and loved by health food enthusiasts, broccoli is a green vegetable with a reputation. The treelike stalks are part of the cabbage family and are grown and eaten all over the world. About 75 percent of the world's production of broccoli comes from China and India. The plant thrives in cool weather, making it a winter and spring vegetable, but it's grown year-round in places like California. It can be eaten raw, steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, roasted, grilled, fried, or pureed.

What Is Broccoli?

Broccoli is often nicknamed "little trees" thanks to its light green stalk and tightly clustered, dark green flowering head. It grows surrounded by gray-green leaves that are also edible but are often removed before being sold commercially. The word broccoli means "little arms" or "little shoots" in Italian, and it's believed that the vegetable originated there. The affordable veggie requires little prep beyond washing and trimming, and can be sliced, chopped, or left whole.

How to Cook Broccoli

Broccoli is an extremely versatile vegetable and takes to many methods of cooking and preparation. Before using, rinse and dry it and, if needed, trim any brown from the cut stem. Some recipes call for peeling the stalk while others only use the florets. Every part of broccoli sold in the grocery is edible, so be sure to save unused parts for another recipe. For example, leftover stalks can be cooked and pureed to make soup.

To break up a head of broccoli into florets, take a sharp knife and cut away at the base of the flowering stalks, separating them from the main, thick stalk. Trim into smaller florets if desired. Raw broccoli florets can be served as part of a crudités platter or used in broccoli salad. The florets can also be cooked, as can the stem. Broccoli can even be cooked whole (although it is typically chopped up for even cooking) or sliced into thick slices called "steaks."

Extreme close up of raw broccoli
Adam Gault / Getty Images
Close-Up Of Chopped Broccoli In Bowl On Cutting Board
Harald Walker / EyeEm / Getty Images
Broccoli, kale, spinach and mint soup with tahini
Eugene Mymrin / Getty Images 
Avocado quiche with broccoli and pepper
Michael Himpel / Getty Images 
Chicken and vegetable penne
Joff Lee / Getty Images 

What Does Broccoli Taste Like?

Members of the cabbage family all have a distinct flavor profile which differs slightly between cultivars. Raw broccoli is very crunchy with a vegetal, slightly sweet and slightly bitter flavor. It differs greatly in flavor from cooked broccoli, which is often sweeter. Depending on the cook time and method, cooked broccoli can be very tender, crisp-tender, or still crunchy. The stalk tends to have a milder flavor than the florets.

Broccoli Recipes

There are unending recipes that use broccoli, from soups to salads to stir-fries to casseroles. Toss raw broccoli into a salad or slaw or serve with dip. Steam broccoli and serve as a side dish, add to a casserole, or puree into a soup (thawed frozen broccoli also works nicely in place of steamed). Slice and grill, or add to your next stir-fry or curry. Roasted or sautéed broccoli makes a nice green side dish, and the veggie pairs well with garlic, sesame, cheese, chili, and other strong flavors and seasonings.


Easy Two-Step Sautéed Broccoli Recipe

Where to Buy Broccoli

Find broccoli in your local grocery store sold in single stalks, bundles, or bags. Already trimmed florets can be found in bags, and frozen florets are available in the freezer section.

Although readily available year-round, prime time for fresh broccoli in the Northern hemisphere is October through April. When selecting broccoli, look for tightly closed, dark green florets and firm, thin stalks. Thick stalks can be woody and are a sign of age. Reject any heads with yellowing or tiny yellow flowers as this is an indication of age.

Broccoli can be grown at home and harvested in the late spring or early fall depending on where you live. For cooler climates, plant in full sun; for warmer climates, plant in partial sun to prevent bolting.

How to Store Broccoli

Store fresh broccoli loosely wrapped in a plastic bag or perforated bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to five days. Depending on how long the stalks sat in your grocery store, they may begin to turn limp before the five days are up, so use as soon as possible, especially if serving raw.

Cooked broccoli will keep for three days in the fridge in an airtight container. If kept properly frozen, frozen broccoli will keep for 6 to 12 months.

To freeze fresh broccoli, cut washed and dried broccoli into florets and chop the stalks. Steam for about 5 minutes. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and retain the green color. Drain thoroughly and place in sealed bags or containers.

The Spruce Eats / Madelyn Goodnight

Broccoli vs. Cauliflower

At a quick glance, cauliflower looks like white broccoli. Cauliflower (which also comes in yellow or purple shades) comes from the same family—along with Brussels sprouts and kale—and has a similar treelike appearance. Upon closer inspection, the heads are much more tightly clustered, and the stalk is shorter. Cauliflower has a milder flavor and heartier texture when cooked, but depending on the recipe, one can be substituted for the other.