Broccoli and Cauliflower


Broccoli and cauliflower are the vegetables that you either love or hate. Due to its high nutritional value, broccoli is cultivated and consumed in many countries around the world from Italy and the Netherlands to Japan and the United States. It is a rich source of fibres, proteins, lipids, minerals and vitamins. It is a cold temperature crop that is harvested year- round, being sowed both in spring and in autumn.

Classification and taxonomy

Broccoli and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L. var itallica and botrytis respectively) are member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family, also known as the mustard family, that includes other well-known members such as Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, rutabaga, collard greens, Kohlrabi and, of course, mustard.

Origin, history and uses

Originally from what is now Italy, broccoli has been cultivated around the whole Mediterranean region since Ancient Roman times. The origins of cauliflower are believed to be the Northeastern Mediterranean region (Cyprus).

The word broccoli comes from the Italian word brocco derived from the Latin brocchus (meaning ‘projecting’, a reference to the broccoli head). In Italian, broccoli is a plural word referring to the numerous sprouts in the inflorescence shape of the plant. The word cauliflower derives from the Latin words caulis (cabbage) and flōs (flower), reflecting its membership of the cabbage family.

In the 18th century, both broccoli and cauliflower were introduced to Northern Europe, particularly England and France. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, due to the large European (and especially Italian) migration, they became more and more popular in the United States. Nowadays, the US is the third largest producer of broccoli and cauliflower in the world. California is the ‘broccoli state’ producing more than 90% of the American broccoli 1.

Broccoli and cauliflower can be eaten fresh or preserved frozen; they can also be consumed in processed forms such as powders which can be used for soups and even coffee!

Key facts about broccoli and cauliflower

During the last decades, there was a rising global demand for the Brassica genus vegetables, namely broccoli and cauliflower but also kale and cabbages.

According to FAOSTAT, the largest global producers of broccoli and cauliflower are China, India and the United States (average 1994 – 2016). Within the European Union, the major growers of broccoli and cauliflower are Spain, Italy and France.

Important types of broccoli include purple sprouting, purple cape, purple Sicilian, white sprouting and Calabrese. Most people would consider cauliflower to be white, but there are also varieties growing in popularity which are orange, green and purple. Broccoli and cauliflower degrade very fast and have a short shelf-life, which is why they are usually transported straight after harvesting.

Further information is available here:

  1. Branca, F. (2008). Cauliflower and broccoli. In: Prohens J., Nuez F.(eds) Vegetables I. p. 147-182, Springer, New York, ISBN: 978-0-387-72291-7, doi:10.1007/978-0-387-30443-4.

  2. Branca F., Cartea E. (2011). Brassica. In: Kole C. (eds) Wild Crop Relatives: Genomic and Breeding Resources. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-14871-2_2.

  3. Branca, F., et al. (2018). Diversity of Sicilian broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis) landraces and their distinctive bio-morphological, antioxidant and genetic traits. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 65: 485-502.

  4. Yu, H., et al. (2019). Construction of a High-Density Genetic Map and Identification of Loci Related to Hollow Stem Trait in Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. italica). Front. Plant Sci., 10:45. doi:10.3389/fpls.2019.00045.

  1. More about the history of broccoli in Juurlink, B.H.J., Broccoli. Cultivation, Nutritional Properties and Effects on Health, Nova Publishers, New-Yorker, 2016.  

Fun facts

  • Did you know that…

    broccoli coffee is the latest health food trend in some parts of the world? Would you fancy a broccoli coffee? It is made from dehydrated broccoli powder coming from those broccoli heads that were considered too ‘ugly’ to be sold.

  • Did you know that…

    broccoli has more vitamin C than a glass of orange juice?

  • Did you know that…

    purple cauliflower turns green when it is cooked?

  • Did you know that…

    the fleshy white tips of the cauliflower are often called “curd” due the resemblance to cheese curd.