Whether you're a broccoli lover or not, there's no denying it's a global favorite. Broccoli, whose history dates back more than 2,000 years in Europe, evolved from a wild cabbage plant. This nutrient-packed, cruciferous plant was introduced to the United States by early Italian immigrants but was not widely recognized until the 1920s, according to Princeton University; today, it is one of America's most popular vegetables. The majority of broccoli sold in the U.S. is large-headed, but three other types are available, each having several varieties from which to choose.
Large-headed, or heading, broccoli plants grow a large, central head. They need lots of space to grow and prefer cool temperatures. It's the broccoli type most closely related to cauliflower. The heads are actually flower buds, and the best time to harvest is before the flowers open or begin to turn yellow. If you're planning to grow this kind of broccoli but your planting space is limited, a smaller-head variety, such as Munchkin, works well. Large-head broccoli varieties include Arcadia Belstar, Munchkin, Nutri-Bud and Packman.
Sprouting broccoli produces small, tender heads and is grown for its long tender shoots that can be prepared like asparagus or added to stir-fry dishes. While growing, this broccoli type needs frequent cutting to encourage steady production. Sprouting broccoli is best grown from fall to spring in areas with mild winters and from midsummer to fall in most climates, according to Mother Earth News. Varieties of this type include Calabrese, De Cicco, Purple Peacock and Purple Sprouting.
This fast-growing type of broccoli, also known as turnip broccoli, forms multiple small heads and tends to branch out. Best flavor results from harvesting the tender shoots before the flowers open. This hardy broccoli loves cool weather and produces consistently for several weeks. Its leaves and stems are also edible. Broccoli raab varieties include Early Fall Rapini, Sessantina, Grossa, Sorrento, and Zamboni.
Romanesco broccoli is known for its spiral head. The plants are large, stand upright and need plenty of room to grow. This spiraled-headed broccoli has a crunch similar to cauliflower. Temperatures in the 80-degree range, regular watering and rich soil combine to produce the best growth results, according to Mother Earth News. Romanesco varieties include Natalino, Romanesco Italia and Veronica.
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