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A Scientist's Quest For Perfect Broccoli 118

HonorPoncaCityDotCom writes "For all the wonders of fresh broccoli, in most parts of the country it is only available from local growers during the cooler weeks at either end of the growing season, nowhere near long enough to become a fixture in grocery stores or kitchens. But now Michael Moss writes in the NY Times that Thomas Bjorkman is out to change all that by creating a new version of the plant that can thrive in hot, steamy summers like those in New York, South Carolina or Iowa and is easy and inexpensive enough to grow in large volumes. And Bjorkman's quest doesn't stop there: His crucifer is also crisp, subtly sweet and utterly tender when eaten fresh-picked and aims to maximize the concentration of glucoraphanin, a mildly toxic compound used by plants to fight insects that in humans may stimulate our bodies' natural chemical defenses to aid in preventing cancer and warding off heart disease. The Eastern Broccoli Project's goal is to create a regional food network for an increasingly important and nutritious vegetable that may serve as a model network for other specialty crops to help shift American attitudes toward fruits and vegetables by increasing their allure and usefulness in cooking, while increasing their nutritional loads. 'If you've had really fresh broccoli, you know it's an entirely different thing,' says Bjorkman, a plant scientist at Cornell University. 'And if the health-policy goal is to vastly increase the consumption of broccoli, then we need a ready supply, at an attractive price.'"
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A Scientist's Quest For Perfect Broccoli

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  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @06:19PM (#44271977)

    Obama claims broccoli is his favorite food []

    Quite a contrast to President George HW Bush: 'I'm President,' So No More Broccoli! []

    It was a proclamation that every child, and many adults, have dreamed of making.

    President Bush declared today that he never, ever, wants to see another sprig of broccoli on his plate, whether he is on Air Force One or at the White House or anywhere else in the land.

    ''I do not like broccoli,'' the President said, responding to queries about a broccoli ban he has imposed aboard Air Force One, first reported this week in U.S. News and World Report. ''And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!''

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Obama claims broccoli is his favorite food

      Then we can be sure of one thing - he doesn't like broccoli and probably hates it.

      Maybe he owes a favor to some agribusiness corporation.

      • For all the wonders of fresh broccoli, in most parts of the country it is only available from local growers during the cooler weeks at either end of the growing season, nowhere near long enough to become a fixture in grocery stores or kitchens

        hun? This is bizarre to me as a Canadian it is a fixture in grocery stores. I can't remember the last one I saw without it.

        Spinach - that's a problem. Even though they all stock it, it's frequently sold out. Baby spinach is abundant but not the dark leaf.

        • Fresh broccoli, as it's written in the article, refers to harvested the same day. That's not what you're getting in most stores. You can disagree that it tastes any different (I'd think you're a fool if you did, but that's just my two cents), but I think the claim as stated stands true.
          • ahh - never paid enough attention to when stuff was picked - to me that's just too elitist. If it's edible, free of crap that will likely kill me in the long run, and reasonably priced that's all I care about. Hydroponic strawberries would be the exception to that statement... they're technically edible but strawberries should be red/soft/sweet inside, not white/hard/watery.

            • All quite reasonable criteria, I'd say.

              Honestly I never really paid all that much attention either, until two years ago when I spent a summer in California living with a roommate who worked at the Embarcadero farmer's market [] (the most elitist [] of the farmer's markets!) and would regularly bring home just the absolute tastiest stuff (he would trade with the other merchants). I'd almost (but I'd probably be exaggerating) describe it as finding that red, juicy strawberry feeling, but in a whole range of other

              • Embarcadero farmer's market

                What, so the Borland development tools brought another company down to its knees? Man, those compilers must be cursed or something.

              • Boys and girls, listen up.
                If you have never had really fresh veggies (or anything else for that matter) then you are in for a real treat. I spent three years growing organic veggies (and meaties) back in the 70s and it ruined tasteless grocery-store food for me. The taste of fresh celery is amazing, really

                Yeah, until you have it you just don't know

                • by Uzuri ( 906298 )

                  I second (third, fourth, whatever we're on) this.

                  I grew up in farm country; I'm now in one of the densest parts of the US in a tiny little studio apartment.

                  I'm growing strawberries, blueberries, peppers, and cucumbers indoors to get a shot at that taste. I don't get much, but what I do get is precious as gold. I can stand by my strawberry in complete bliss eating a single fruit. Farmers markets fill the rest of my cravings.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Possibly genetic. I hated broccoli as kid, but that was before I tasted fresh broccoli properly prepared. People who obsessively dislike broccoli, brussels sprout, etc, are either being childish (probably many), have psychological issues with food (picky eaters, which is actually a thing) or have peculiar receptors for the bitter compounds in the cabbage group of vegetables ( can report some of these).

      • Your senses (including taste and smell) decline as you age.
      • It's not the bitter taste, it's the sulphurous, garbage dump like stink that some just don't seem to perceive.

        The failure to detect the stink is probably a genetic defect promoted by Darwinian selection where a part of the population survived by not being overly critical about eating out of a dumpster.

        That said, broccoli is the least offending of the cauliflower family in this regard. Brussels sprouts are worst.

        • by lxs ( 131946 )

          I think you nailed it. It really does taste of decomposition. I love broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage but Brussels sprouts make me retch. It's like gnawing on dirty socks pulled off a corpse.
          I disagree with you assesment of the evolutionary significance though. Those who are forced to make do with scraps need a keen sense to avoid bacterial infections by only eating the safe garbage.

        • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Sunday July 14, 2013 @01:13AM (#44274353)

          It's not the bitter taste, it's the sulphurous, garbage dump like stink that some just don't seem to perceive.

          Supertasters [], approximately a quarter of the world's population, have the ability to taste PROP [] and PTC [], finding them incredibly bitter while the rest of the population cannot taste them at all. (Supertasters have other differences from non-supertasters, too, including a larger number of fungiform papillae on the surface of the tongue.)

          Plants of the Brassica [] family, which includes broccoli (as well as cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) contain a compound similar to PTC. People who like broccoli are living in a genetic world supertasters can only dream of; even the smell of the Brassica family is immediately repulsive to supertasters. This is believed due to the genotypes they carry of the TAS2R38 gene [], which codes for a bitter taste receptor.

          Frankly, I don't think Dr. Bjorkman's work will be done unless he gets the PTC-related compounds out of broccoli.

          • Being able to taste bitterness is just the starting point, you can learn to like it. Few people really enjoy their first real beer (as in one with hop bitterness, not the faux lagers youngsters prefer) but quickly learn to like it. Same thing happens with vegetables, though obviously plenty of folk never gain mature tastes.

            Personally I'm worried about this mention of 'sweet', does the world really need another dumbed down food with it's distinctive flavours stripped back to what lazy, immature tastes can co

            • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

              I am a supertaster, and yeah, there are certain types of bitterness that even we can learn to like. Frex, gunpowder tea weaned me off sweetened tea, and now I drink all tea plain and bitter. And I like a light crisp bitterness in my beer, but not the bitter =aftertaste= that some has.

              But there's a difference between flavorless and subtle: stuff like lettuce need not be bitter to have flavor -- to a supertaster, things like head lettuce and plain soda crackers can have subtle flavors which other people just

      • I hated broccoli as a kid, but I love it now, can't have enough of it. And I hate brussels sprout - except when raw. Raw brussels sprout is fantastic, and cooked makes me vomit. What does that make me?
    • At least there is one issue that I agree with the President on. Broccoli makes me happy!

      • I am happy to agree with President Obama on this matter, and believe that President George H.W. Bush's position is ill considered. I wonder if he ever tried the one below?

        Broccoli-Raisin salad is tasty indeed.


  • Real scientists... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by demon driver ( 1046738 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @06:24PM (#44271999) Journal

    ... eat Romanesco broccoli [].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Won't somebody think of the children!?

    • Haven't people told you? When talking about sadists, wishing them to be pedophiles to boot is not considered socially appropriate.
  • that's all.

    I'd rather eat paprika laced with bugs for the same effect.

    • So we can answer the question from the article: to make perfect broccoli, nuke it from the orbit, that's the only way to be sure. That's the only good kind of broccoli.

      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        So we can answer the question from the article: to make perfect broccoli, nuke it from the orbit, that's the only way to be sure. That's the only good kind of broccoli.

        Careful not to over-nuke it though, otherwise the nutrients are lost.

    • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @07:53PM (#44272389)

      Just make sure you've had it done right before writing it off entirely. If all you've ever had was over boiled green goo, then it'll be easy to assume you don't like broccoli, but cooked so that it is firm yet tender in a good stir fry, or in any other of the many right ways to do it, broccoli's good stuff. Maybe you really don't like it, I just hope you've fairly evaluated it before coming to that decision.

      • It's funny, really:

        article: "broccoli in stores sucks, fresh is almost never available, etc etc "

        /. : "Whatever, screw that, all broccoli (that I've eaten from those same grocery stores) sucks!"

        (Not to take emphasis away from the pile that is over-boiled broccoli)

      • If the broccoli's any good you can eat the florets raw. Boiling it is always wrong, if you have to cook it light steaming is less destructive and stir frying even better since the core is still mostly raw.

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          Try the raw, fresh florets =after= it's bloomed. I was amazed to find them tender and sweet and vastly better than the bud-form we traditionally eat. (Broccoli doesn't head up at all in the desert; it bolts into a brushy bloomy thing.)

          • Young, fresh Mustard is tasty raw. It gets hot pretty quickly with age. Noshed a lot of that living in California, it's everywhere.
            Really hot Mustard flowers are good for body rushes, like raw Garlic.

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      that's all.

      I'd rather eat paprika laced with bugs for the same effect.

      You do, and, you pay a premium price for the opportunity.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Cue the Luddites telling us how bad every last thing that can be thought of as a GMO is. Maybe this scientist will get threatening calls, mail, etc. now from crazies that this information is available. Hell, even Mike Elgan ( might post one of his anti-GMO rants about this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No GMO Broccoli! Or Broccoli of any other sort!

      • Funny thing about broccoli is that, much like corn, wheat, and strawberries, it was created by humans. Go back a ways in time, and you will not find broccoli, only the wild mustard plant that it was bred from. If breeding things like broccoli and corn were developed today, there'd be plenty of folks going on about the proven dangers of broccoli that are totally scientific and not just justifications for their own superstitions, and how changing the form of the plant is totally different than standard bree

  • The distinction seems pretty narrow, depending on what you do and don't classify as "genetic engineering". There might not be a distinction at all. We'll have an answer if Bjorkman succeeds and then files for a patent.

    • We are not doing any genetic engineering on this project. The basis for the project is to meet the demand for locally grown broccoli in the east. Even though many /. commenters are apparently not big buyers, eastern consumers go through something like half a billion pounds of the stuff every year. As far as I can tell, buyers would like to get local broccoli, but not GMO broccoli. So that is one reason not to genetically engineer it. There are many technical reasons why it isn't effective as well. You also
      • by macraig ( 621737 )

        I don't have a dogmatic position on full-gonzo genetic engineering myself, and have arguments about it versus the historic hybridization or just singling out mutations that we prefer (e.g. seedless oranges). I am not at all convinced that our current grasp of biology is complete enough to make actual genetic engineering a wise practice. I do have a problem with existing IP law, as it leads to "rent collection" and concentration of wealth. Nature never intended for a creature to be able to create once and

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @06:43PM (#44272075)
    Dr. Hibbert: Another broccoli-related death.
    Marge: But I thought broccoli was...
    Dr. Hibbert: Oh yes. One of the deadliest plants on earth. It tries to warn you itself with its terrible taste.
  • Patent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fuzzums ( 250400 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @07:04PM (#44272143) Homepage

    Broccoli is already patented by Monsanto.
    We're not talking about a genetically mutilated Monsanto broccoli, but they patented open source broccoli. []

    • As much as I hate Monsanto, I really don't trust much from realfarmacy. Especially after reading this [].
      • by Anonymous Coward
        They're also busy protecting our precious body fluids from communism by fighting fluoridation []. Also 80% of the world is about to kick their wheat habit because wheat is toxic []...and every cancer can be cured in weeks []. So much concentrated it real or a parody, and how can you tell?
      • by Fuzzums ( 250400 )

        It was the first source I could find. There are many others if you don't like this one.

        What Monsanto did here, is take an existing crop and cross-breed (?) it so it is easy to harvest. What they patented is the properties, size of the crown and the stem of the broccoli that make it easy to harvest.. The problem is that broccoli like that already is grown. Suddenly that is not allowed any more. The other problem is they also patented hybrids. So if their broccoli pollutes your open source broccoli, you're fu

        • Alright, I bit. And found the patent in question []. It does also claim any further modification (i.e. accidentally cross-pollinated) varieties (item 0047). Exactly how it would hold up in court I think remains to be tested, but yeah, fuck Monsanto's patent trolling (the patent is granted to Seminis seeds, which is owned by Monsanto [])
          • by Fuzzums ( 250400 )

            Patent Trolling is one thing. Food Trolling is the part that really pisses me off.
            Also Cotton Trolling (trolling the farmers in India). Farmers start to realize Monsanto cotton is not a good solution for them (the seeds are four time as expensive as normal seeds). They want out, but by now there normal cotton seeds are hardly available.

            • Yeah, you're right, Monsanto is at least a couple more orders of magnitude higher on my shit list than simple patent trolls. I guess I just thought since this was slashdot it was the easiest, dirtiest descriptor at my disposal in so many words.
    • a genetically mutilated Monsanto broccoli

      You mean one produced by technology? Yeah,. I hate technology! Or do you mean one that isn't a wild mustard? Did you know broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussel's sprouts, and kohlrabi are all the same species, bred from an ancestral wild mustard? Doesn't get more genetically mutilated than that.

      but they patented open source broccoli.

      Really? Or did they develop their own variety and patent that? Which would be like making something new out of wood then some clueless/lying fearmonger says wood is patented.

      • by Fuzzums ( 250400 )

        They enhanced existing broccoli and patented the enhanced properties of it, but that is done in such a way that even existing types of open source broccoli could/would fall under that patent prohibiting (or pay licence fees) farmers to grow the broccoli that they grew before without licence.

  • WTF is this? (Score:4, Informative)

    by frisket ( 149522 ) <[peter] [at] []> on Saturday July 13, 2013 @07:20PM (#44272207) Homepage most parts of the country it is only available from local growers during the cooler weeks at either end of the growing season...

    What country is this you speak of? AFAIK broccoli is on the shelves of my local stores pretty much all year. Sure, it's imported from somewhere insanely far away like China or Africa or Tierra del Fuego half the time, but it's there.

    Not that I eat it, mind you. It's on the banned list, like Brussels sprouts. As Nicholas Freeling said about British peas, all I can suggest is that it be put into concrete barrels with radioactive waste and the Mafia, and sunk in the ocean.

    "I regret to say that we of the FBI are powerless to act in cases of oral-genital intimacy, unless it has in some way obstructed inter-state commerce." -- J Edgar Hoover

    • by cute-boy ( 62961 )

      Same here in Australia, we get broccoli all year around... Even in it's colder parts Australia is pretty hot in summer, and it's grown in Australia, rather than being imported from a far-away place (although perhaps it uses environmentally unsound quantities of precious water resources to produce).


    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
      I think they are talking about it only being available from local farmers certain times of the year. Most of the time I would imagine it's imported from somewhere globally where it's currently in season.
    • Bingo. It's grown year-round here in California, which AFAIK is the primary source of broccoli for North America. There has to be some difference (age? time since being cut?) between the broccoli sent to other areas versus sold here in local stores, though -- the stuff here rarely has a markedly unpleasant or bitter flavor, especially when cooked, and nobody I knew growing up had a real problem with it more than any other veggie.

    • most parts of the country it is only available from local growers during the cooler weeks

      "local growers" is the key noun-phrase you seem to have missed

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 ( 1400425 ) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @08:17PM (#44272515)
    First take a beef patty and grill it over a charcoal or propane grill for 8 minutes, 4 on each side. While doing that toast a hamburger bun. Rest the patty for a minute, put on the bun and dress with some ketchup, mustard, a few pickles and some cheese.(Lettuce, onion, and tomatoes are optional.) Then take the broccoli and throw it to the rabbits in your backyard so you'll have some cute bunnies to watch while you eat your burger. (Oh, a don't forget to have a beer or coke while you're enjoying that perfect broccoli.)
    • You can grill broccoli too you know. I find that meat is often overrated and vegetables to be much better main dishes than most would assume.

  • I like broccoli but, like many people, I don't feel so well after I eat very much of it.

  • This sounds like the end of broccoli. Let's genetically modify it to pack itself with modified corn syrup, then even healthy vegetables can make you fat!

    Also, the only reason I can think for people not liking broccoli is cooking it to death. It needs gentle treatment. 'Al dente' purple-sprouting broccoli was a real treat when I was a child at home, when it was in season.

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      I was wondering about that too. Americans must have everything sweet, it seems. And sweet veggies are just wrong...

    • This is a reasonable question. The goal is not to make it unnaturally sweet, but to retain the natural sweetness that makes it taste good. It is just enough that you don't experience it as harsh. It is not like sweet corn, which I find too sweet to have with food.

      The way to retain the sweetness is to get it to consumers faster. That is easier if you are close by.

      Many commenters here seem not to like broccoli. I bet that for many, it is because too much of the sugar had been metabolized, and the flavor was o

  • Or, you know, we could learn to eat vegetables that are in season locally instead of trying to live off of a handful of vegetables year-round.... Kale is amazing, green mustards and chard... amazing greens and definitely under-appreciated.

    As a side note, Romanesco broccoli is probably the best kind. Steam it and eat it as is! Or, if you'd like, with just a dab of good olive oil and a pinch of salt/pepper. Some people like to add a little lemon juice as well. This is how I usually eat broccoli and I've ne
  • We just pack the broccoli in styrofoam boxes with a bit of ice. Seems to work great. The stores just store the boxes in a cold room upon delivery. Rocket surgery, I know.

    Also, if you think broccoli tastes bad then I suggest the problem is your cooking skills or your belief in anti-vegetable propaganda (probably fed to you as a child) and not the vegetable.

    I wonder if Broccoli can be gassed like apples. Most people are unaware that the "fresh" apples they get in store are actually a few years old. The secret

    • I think the gassing works well to prevent ripening, browning, and other oxygen reactions, but if I'm not mistaken it doesn't stop other cellular processes going on in the plant (icing probably works reasonably well for that though, in some cases for produce that can take it). Gassed fruit still isn't the anywhere near the same as same-day-picked, IMHO.
    • by olau ( 314197 )

      Most people are unaware that the "fresh" apples they get in store are actually a few years old.

      I don't think that's true. As far as I know, depending on the sort of apple, you can store them on a commercial scale for maybe up to 9-12 months. Many sorts can't be stored more than a couple of months before the quality loss makes them distasteful.

      No, I'm not an apple producer myself, but I do own a (somewhat old) book on commercial apple production.

      Also, regarding the gas - the trick is to remove most of the oxygen. The easiest way to do that is simply letting the apples use up the available oxygen throu

      • Reflecting, I think you are correct - though I think there was a gas that was an additive to the environment. I myself never worked on the farms but I did grow up in a very heavy Apple growing area. "A few years" was a slight exaggeration but 12 months definitely isn't. I think you are right about different varieties degrading differently because I find Royal Galas to be the most boring and bland apple, but I can tolerate them when they are actually fresh.

        I think some storage rooms are able to be heated to

  • Well IMO steaming broccoli is the problem, never really liked it much that way. Now baked in the oven is a game changer for me, love it love it, oh and raw isn't bad either.

  • I like broccoli, but I also like the fact that most vegetables, fruits and other things are seasonal. One of the results of supermarkets always having everything - strawberries, apples, everything - is that you can only get the varieties that either keep indefinitely, can be force-grown or can be shipped in from the other side of the globe, which means you can only get apples that are like wood, strawberries like potatoes etc.

    The other effect is of course that it all becomes commonplace and therefore less a

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's