You’ve heard of broccolini but aren’t clear on what it is or how to cook it? This article will answer your questions, including what is broccolini, is it as healthy as broccoli, and what kind of vitamins are in it. We’re drawing clear lines between various members of the broccoli family, explaining the health benefits of this thin, green vegetable, and suggesting some tasty recipes you can prepare right away in case you want to try broccolini for yourself.
Broccolini vs. Broccoli: What Is Broccolini?
Broccolini vs. broccoli, broccoli rabe vs. Chinese broccoli… what is the difference between all of these broccoli off-shoots? All four are winter greens, all include dark green leaves and florets, but they are still not the same veggie at all. Here’s how to tell them apart.
Broccoli is a cruciferous leafy green that is low in calories and high in water content. A good source of dietary fiber, a single cup of broccoli also contains around 43 milligrams of calcium, 92 micrograms of vitamin K, 288 milligrams of potassium, and 81 milligrams of vitamin C. Broccoli also contains thiamine, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and folate.
Eating broccoli contributes to your immune system, reduces cholesterol, strengthens your bones, and helps lower the risk of certain cancers. Have it cooked alongside dinner, or eat it raw with some dip as part of a crudité plate.
Also known as Chinese kale, “jie lan” in Mandarin, and “gai lan” or “kai lan” in Cantonese, Chinese broccoli is a leafy green vegetable and member of the kale family, along with collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Often found in stir-fries and Asian recipes, and high in vitamin C and vitamin A, Chinese broccoli was originally introduced by the Portuguese to China, where its hardy nature allows it to grow year-round.
While Chinese broccoli and broccolini are all in the same botanical family as broccoli original, broccoli rabe (pronounced “rob”) is a member of the turnip family. Though it appears to have the same small buds often seen on broccoli florets, broccoli rabe is nevertheless a more bitter vegetable that subsequently retains its stronger flavor when included in heavily sauced meals or when prepared with meats (as it often is in Italian cuisine). Also known as broccoli raab, rappa, rapini, Italian turnip, broccoli de rape, and fall and spring rabe, among many more names, it is distinctly not Italian sprouting broccoli, which was introduced to the United States about a century ago and is in fact the regular broccoli that today we consider our standard broccoli.
Broccolini is not some form of baby broccoli as the name might suggest. Broccolini is instead a natural hybrid, a cross between Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale and broccoli. Visually, you’ll know broccolini by its florets reminiscent of broccoli, which sit atop the longer stems and leaves that are more characteristic of Chinese broccoli. Broccolini has a sweeter, mellower taste, milder than broccoli, while still maintaining the same anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-microbial properties that broccoli has, along with the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane. The stalks of broccolini are long and thin when you find them packaged in the grocery story, and both the florets and the stems are edible.
Broccolini’s cook time is shorter than that of regular broccoli, but it’s still a closer relative to broccoli as a fellow brassica family member (along with Brussels sprouts and cabbage) than broccoli rabe is to either of them.
Broccolini? You Hardly Know Me!
While broccoli’s flowering head and leafy greens can be eaten, the whole plant is not edible. Broccolini, however, is far more versatile to cook with, and is soft enough to even purée into a sauce or dip. Steam it, sauté it in olive oil, roast it as a side dish, or include it in a stir-fried main course—you can prepare broccolini any way you would normally prepare traditional broccoli, and more.
Broccolini requires less prep time as you don’t have to peel the stem. Because the thin stalks are tender enough, you can cook and eat them as well, and at the same cook time rate as the florets. In fact, if you can think of the stalks of broccolini as string beans attached to pre-chopped broccoli florets, then you’d have a more perfect understanding of the two-fold vegetable value that is broccolini.
Here are some more details about the health attributes of this hybrid veggie.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Because broccolini has a good amount of beta-carotene, which gets converted to vitamin A in the body, broccolini is a boon to healthy skin. A lot of the skin products and beautifiers in your bathroom cabinet contain vitamin A because of its use in protecting and maintaining skin health, for example. Broccolini also has the phytochemical sulforaphane, an anti-cancer antioxidant that protects your skin and helps lower inflammation.
Aids Digestive Health
Just like broccoli and many other vegetables, broccolini contains fiber that the body needs to bind together waste product in the gut, and move it on out with comfort and ease. The only time you don’t need a good amount of fiber each day is if you’re about to go in for a medical procedure or you have an inflammatory disorder of the bowel that requires a low-fiber rest period. The fiber in broccolini also works as a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the good bacteria in your digestive tract and helps to keep your digestive system balanced and healthy.
Boosts the Immune System
Along with vitamin A, the vitamin C content in broccolini also has properties that guard against infection, reduce inflammation, and even contribute to anti-aging efforts in the body. Broccolini contains potassium as well, important for heart and kidney health.
Liver Cleansing and Cancer Prevention
The enzyme indole-3-carbinol has a hand in liver detoxification and helps to maintain hormone balance in the body. Indole-3-carbinol is derived from a substance known as glucobrassicin, which is found in vegetables such as kale, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips. Indole-3-carbinol forms when these vegetables are cut, cooked, or chewed, and is also used for cancer prevention.
If all that sounds good and you’re now ready to try broccolini for dinner, here are some basic recipes to help get you started, and to show just how widely you can flavor and prepare this versatile veggie.
As simple as they come, roasted broccolini is nothing but broccolini, olive oil, and a little kosher salt and black pepper. This might be the recipe you choose first, just so you can interview this skinny vegetable and get a feel for how it cooks, tastes, and fares in your kitchen. Once you’ve met the broccolini, then you might want to get more adventurous with some of the other recipes below.
With a lemon and some smashed garlic, this simple recipe tastes great, as the lemon slices caramelize and take on a jam-like jellied consistency and the broccolini becomes crispy on the ends of its florets. The stalks stay tender, the garlic gives it another flavorful depth, and with Parmesan on top you’ve got at least three food groups going on in one easy pan.
Get a pound and a half of broccoli, some cremini mushrooms, a sweet onion, and some white wine or vermouth, and make this saucy dish with a dash of pepper and Parmesan. It’s an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-style recipe, so don’t be afraid to use whatever you’ve got and make it your own.
Another simple recipe, this one a sauté with garlic and olive oil that will flavor your broccolini but also soften it up for easy eating and digesting. Enjoy it as a side or plate it over rice or noodles, or zoodles for even more vegetable content.
With butter and lemon juice, 4 quarts of water, some lemon zest, and black pepper, this recipe makes your broccolini softer than ever, and delivers it in a tasty sauce that can be easily spread over rice or prepared with tofu for a full-plated meal.
Our final recipe is the most complex yet, with garlic, sesame seeds, soy sauce, fish sauce, red wine vinegar, and chili flakes. It’s a combination that will make your taste buds sit up and take notice for sure. Quick to prepare and memorable to eat, the Asian flare on this dish is perfect for impressing company.
The Broccolini Breakdown
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what makes broccolini distinct from broccoli and the rest of the whole big broccoli family. Not only is it milder in taste than broccoli and far sweeter than broccoli rabe, but it also has a quick cook time and no roughage to peel or throw away: what you buy with broccolini is what you get to eat. That includes its broccoli-esque florets and its stalks like string beans, which means it’s basically two vegetable experiences for the price of one. Bring home some broccolini, have a martini, and flavor this veggie to your own tastes and spice preference for a delightful vegetable dish.