10 Types of Broccoli and Their Health Benefits

10 Types of Broccoli and Their Health Benefits

When you think of broccoli, you probably think of the big green florets you see at the grocery store. However, there are dozens of types of broccoli, and colors range from green to purple to white.

Each type of broccoli has different flavors, and different-sized stalks, leaves, and florets. While they all have similar health benefits (cruciferous vegetables may help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more), there are some subtle nutritional differences worth noting.

Keep reading to learn about 10 different types of broccoli and their health benefits. 

Blue wind broccoli is a hybrid type with a hint of blue in its leaves and heads, hence the name Blue Wind. It has a large, tightly-beaded head, with a slightly milder flavor than regular broccoli. Besides the subtle blue hue, it looks relatively similar to Calabrese broccoli—the most common variety you’re probably used to seeing at the grocery store. 

There isn’t specific research on the health benefits of this type of broccoli, but it offers fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that exert anti-inflammatory and overall health-promoting effects just like other types of broccoli.

Broccolini is a result of crossbreeding regular broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It has long thin stems with little floret tufts at the ends. Its mild, subtly sweet, earthy flavor shines through deliciously when it’s sautéed, grilled, or roasted.

Research has found that this vegetable is a great source of phenolic compounds, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, and carotenoids—phytochemicals that act as antioxidants in the body. This means they help combat oxidative stress linked to chronic inflammation, cancer, and other diseases. Interestingly, a recent study found that 70% of broccolini’s phenolic compounds were lost after boiling and 50% were lost after steaming and griddling.

While you can eat this vegetable raw, it tastes best when cooked. So, if you’re looking to balance flavor and nutritional value, lean on cooking methods other than boiling—sautéeing, griddling, steaming, grilling, etc.  

Believe it or not, broccoli rabe (or raab as it’s sometimes spelled) is a part of the turnip family. As a result, its flavor profile and common uses are much more similar to turnips than broccoli. 

You may get it mixed up with broccolini, but they have some key differences. Broccoli rabe has thin stems, smaller florets, and much bigger leaves than broccolini. You can eat all parts of this vegetable, but it’s quite bitter so it goes best when balanced with other strong flavors like soy sauce. In Italian cuisine, it’s often sautéed with garlic

This vegetable is a good source of various vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

A unique white sprouting broccoli from the United Kingdom, Burbank broccoli is a variety you probably won’t find on the United States grocery store shelves. However, you can find seeds for sale online and grow it yourself at home! Just note that it can take over 200 days to mature after you plant the seeds. You may also find it at a farmer’s market.

Burbank broccoli has thin green stalks and tufts of white florets. The flavor is pretty mild and slightly creamy. You can even eat the leaves.

Since it’s not a common type of broccoli, there isn’t specific research on its health benefits, but there’s no doubt that it’s full of phytonutrients and fiber just like other broccoli varieties. 

If you’ve ever purchased broccoli from the grocery store, it was probably Calabrese broccoli. This type of broccoli has a sturdy stalk and big green, tightly-beaded florets. It has a slightly bitter, earthy flavor with a crunchy texture. You can enjoy it raw or cooked in pretty much any way you like—roasted, grilled, steamed, sautéed, air-fried, blanched, and more. 

Unsurprisingly, research shows that it has numerous health benefits. The plant compounds in broccoli including sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and quercetin, act as antioxidants that help keep inflammation at bay. Furthermore, the vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, fiber, vitamin E, vitamin K, and antioxidants in broccoli promote heart, eye, immune, bone, metabolic, and digestive health.

Chinese broccoli, also called Gai Lan, looks nothing like the broccoli you usually see in the produce section of American grocery stores. It has long green stalks, big green leaves, and tiny florets barely visible underneath the big leaves. The stalks are slightly sweet, while the leaves are earthy and bitter. 

As the name suggests, this broccoli is commonly enjoyed in Chinese cuisine. It’s often boiled or steamed and flavored with oyster sauce, soy sauce, and garlic.

Chinese broccoli has as much fiber as Calabrese broccoli, but twice as much calcium and almost twice as much folate. These two micronutrients are especially important during pregnancy, and many pregnant people don’t get enough of them. Beyond pregnancy, calcium is key for bone health, and folate is important for DNA synthesis.

An heirloom broccoli variety, Di Cicco is popular in Italy. Just like Blue Wind broccoli, the heads of this type have a blueish hue. Otherwise, it looks similar to regular broccoli, but with smaller heads. The taste is similar as well—earthy, and slightly sweet.

You can enjoy this type of broccoli raw or cooked, and the whole plant—leaves, florets, and stems—is edible.

Sprouting broccoli comes in several colors, but purple is arguably the most fun. It’s a tall plant with big leaves and medium purple florets. Instead of coming together to form a big head, the florets grow separate from one another. The florets taste similar to regular broccoli, but the stems and leaves are a little sweeter, so the whole plant can be enjoyed.

The vibrant purple florets turn green when cooked and offer unique health benefits. The purple color happens thanks to antioxidants called anthocyanins. Studies have found that anthocyanins in red and purple fruits and vegetables protect against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. 

Note that sprouting broccoli is different from broccoli sprouts, which are baby broccoli plants similar to alfalfa sprouts.

Although technically a part of the cauliflower family, we’ve included Romanesco broccoli on the list because it’s often referred to as broccoli, and it’s definitely worth trying if you haven’t already. It has a light green color and one of the most striking appearances of any vegetable. The florets are spiky spirals, like a kaleidoscope of veggie goodness.  

Originally from Italy, Romanesco broccoli is now available in the U.S. You’re most likely to find it at a farmer’s market or specialty produce store.

Flavor-wise, Romanesco broccoli tastes nutty and slightly sweet. It’s delicious roasted with olive oil and topped with Parmesan cheese.

If you see this type of broccoli, you may confuse it for regular broccoli because the heads are big and tightly-beaded just like Calabrese broccoli. However, the heads have hints of blue and the stalks are slightly longer.

The name Waltham comes from a town in Massachusetts where this broccoli variety was developed in the 1950s. You can cook and enjoy it just like regular broccoli, and it stands to reason that it has a similar nutrition profile—vitamin K, vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and more.

As you now know, broccoli isn’t a monolith. While all the varieties of broccoli have similarities, they are also each distinct in their appearance and flavor profile. Some varieties—like broccoli rabe and Chinese broccoli—are best enjoyed cooked to soften them and add complementary flavors through the cooking process, while others can be enjoyed raw. Here are some general tips for including broccoli in your diet:

  • Try planting seeds of a new broccoli variety in your garden
  • Snack on broccoli raw for maximum nutritional benefits
  • Sautée broccoli with garlic and olive oil
  • Cook broccoli in the air fryer for a crispy texture
  • Pair broccoli rabe with sausage to balance its strong flavor
  • Roast broccoli with olive oil and parmesan

Now that you know all the varieties of broccoli, you’ll never look at it the same again. However, don’t get too caught in the weeds of remembering each one’s distinct flavor and nutritional profile. They’re all full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that do wonders for your health.

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