Broccoli's Remarkable Power

This chunky, floret-headed brassica
is packed with antioxidants and vitamins,
rich in calcium and brain-stimulating
boron, and can even help to regulate
oestrogen levels

By Connie Phillipson
Athens News

In most of the world - with the notable exception of Italy -broccoli was a vegetable marked by monumental indifference from cooks and consumers alike until the middle ofthe 20th century. This total lack of enthusiasm no doubt has also been responsible for a common haziness about its origins.

Thus, for example, it is generally believed that broccoli is a forerunner of cauliflower. Yet broccoli appears to have trailed cauliflower in culinary usage by about a century or so, perhaps because it has a much more pungent taste and smell.

The Romans knew broccoli, and the famed gourmet Apicius gives several recipes for cauliculos, which might have been cauliflower and broccoli. Tiberius's son Drusus was so fond, of broccoli that his father, forever careful and finicky about anything out of the ordinary, felt obliged to issue a warning against its excessive consumption. Did he know something we don't?

Both cauliflower and broccoli are members of the mustard family of plants, the brassica group, which has recently captured the attention of the health professions by their antioxidant properties. They, as well as Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi, are no doubt descendants of the wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea), and generally believed to be natives of the Mediterranean region. But this is contradicted by the fact that these vegetables, as well as the 80-odd other members of the brassica group, grow better in colder areas of Northern Europe. Like rye and some other cereals, vegetables and fruit, (their place of origin seem to be somewhere north -of the Mediterranean basin, although cabbage itself and some of its varieties were known to Theophrastus in the 4th century BC, who specifies that they grow better on salty fields, of all places.

The Italians lay claim to priority when it comes to broccoli (B oleracea, var italica), and etymologically at least this appears justified. The name comes from the Italian word brocco, meaning "shoot" or "sprout", from the Latin bracchium, an arm or a branch, and ultimately from the Homeric Greek brachion, an arm. Certamly, a concise description of the plant with its numerous thick and fleshy stalks. Like most other members of the cabbage family, broccoli seems to have been earlier eaten for its stalks, while the eating of the flowering heads appears to have been a later development.

Broccoli seems to have been ushered into French society and cuisine by Catherine de Medici when she married Henry II in 1533. But for a long time the term "brocoli" (the French spell it with one 'C') has been used to refer to the cabbage stalk, and is still so used in some places today. Broccoli was apparently introduced into England around 1720, but somehow the word came to refer to cauliflower. It appears to have been brought to the New World not long after that date, but the vegetable was not generally grown and sold in the United States until the middle of the 20th century. It took the whole of World War II and the American GIs returning from Europe, where they had been exposed to broccoli and its preparations, to create the necessary demand, appropriate market conditions and, of course, the opportune marketing policy.

As it happens, broccoli is one of the few European vegetables adopted by the Chinese, who have surpassed even the Italians in the art of cooking it. The usual broccoli served in European restaurant as one of the two veggies, is a sorrowful squishy mush, sometimes saved by the sauce poured over it. By contrast the Chinese, and the Italians very frequently, prepare a crisp crunchy vegetable, full of flavour, that Surprises the tongue with its tart but enjoyable taste

A measure of its success is that broccoli has become one of the most important frozen foods in the world. This is just as well, since the vegetable is virtually a storehouse of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A and C, and like all other cruciferous vegetables, is a food that fights against chronic degenerative diseases.

Thus broccoli and its siblings are high in calcium and good substitutes for cow's milk, to which one in two grown-up inhabitants of the Mediterranean Basin have a pronounced intolerance. The vegetable contains a good deal of boron, a trace element that is of the utmost importance in the absorption of calcium, but not only. Boron is also an enhancer of the electrical -activity of the brain. Experiments conducted at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in the US, showed that a lack of boron produced more theta waves and fewer alpha waves in the brain, typical of a drowsy condition. The reverse was the case when the amount of, boron increased. The lack of boron appeared to downshift the brain to a lower level of activity.

Broccoli and the other members of the cabbage family also possess what has, been called "oestrogenic activity". That is to say, they are in a position to help regulate the important female hormones known under the general name of oestrogen. What is very important to notice is that such vegetables have the capacity to both increase and dedrease the amount of oestrogen available in the cells according to need, something that approaches beneficial magic in its effects. Increasing estrogen is particularly important with menopausal or post-menopausal women, when the stores of oestrogen in the ovaries gradually dry up. Eating foods with oestrogenic activity (wheat bran, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, legumes,etc.) is a lot better than hormone replacement therapy, and has none of the latters deadly risks.

Decreasing oestrogen on the other hand is useful in cases of breast cancer. Here cruciferous vegetables help lower the fibrocystic lumps in the breast, by speeding up metabolic activity and eliminating the extra oestrogen that aggravates the condition.

They are packed with antioxidants, including beta carotene, glucarate, glutathione, indoles, lutein, quercetin, sulforaphane, and others. Because processing and cooking tends to destroy some of the antioxidants, such as glutathione and the indoles, eat them preferably raw or lightly cooked as the Chinese do in their stir-fry woks.

What should be added as a warning is that broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables should be avoided by patients with Crohn's disease, becaqse they tend to induce the known symptom of discomfort. Equally, these vegetables tend to produce gas in the consumer's intestine, and further increase the discomfort.

Wild Rice, Walnut and Broccoli Salad
Serves 4

3 1/2 cups water
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
salt to taste
500g broccoli florets; steamed
till crisp-tender
1/2 cup broken walnut pieces, toasted;
or pecans
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tbs red wine vinegar - or sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup plain low-fat yoghurt
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil and add the rice.
Add salt to taste, bring back to a boil, reduce
heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes,
until the rice is tender. Drain and toss with the broccoli, nuts, and parsley. Meanwhile, steam broccoli and chop nuts. Mix together the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, and yoghurt. Whisk in the
oil and add salt and pepper. Toss with the rice mixture, correct the seasonings, an,d serve; or refrigerate until shortly before serving.

Broccoli and Blue Cheese Puff Pastry
Serves 4-6

1 sheet phyllo for pastry
4 eggs
500g anthotiro cheese
250g crumbled blue cheese
4 cups cooked broccoli florets pepper and nutmeg to taste

Preheat oven to 200c for 10 minutes. Beat eggs until light. Mix in both cheeses, pepper and nutmeg until well mixed. Stir in broccoli. Set aside. Place phyllo in 23cm quiche dish. Pour filling into crust. Bake 30 minutes.

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by Connie Phillipson in the News & Issues and especially the sections of our extensive, permanent archives at the URL
. She is a journalist and writer for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying her articles may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publication by visiting the website

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