Plant-based diets rely on a wide spectrum of superfoods to get all of your essential nutrients. Cruciferous veggies are some of the most important of these foods. These vegetables are incredibly diverse for cooking, while also offering a host of essential vitamins and minerals.
One of the most well-known shining stars of the cruciferous family is broccoli. Yet, as plant-based diets become more and more popular, different varieties of our favorite staples emerge on the scene. Meet broccolini!
So, what’s the difference? Are they interchangeable in recipes? How about nutrition, do broccoli and broccolini offer the same broad spectrum of essential nutrients?
We’re here to help! Broccoli and broccolini have different looks, tastes, are grown differently, and are cooked differently. Here are two simple, easy-to-follow profiles, to guide you through the differences and best uses of both broccoli and broccolini. We’ve also added recipes from our Food Monster App!
Broccoli versus Broccolini
While broccoli and broccolini share a variety of similar traits, they also offer specialties to their specific name that can help guide how they are best used in cooking.
Both broccoli and broccolini are cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous refers to a specific breed of cool weather, flowering vegetables, known in mainstream media as superfoods. In recent years, cruciferous veggies have become wildly popular due to their cancer-fighting properties. They include familiar veggies such as cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, as well as the not-so-familiar veggies such as rutabaga, tatsoi, and komatsuna.
Yet, this is truly where the similarities end.
One cup of raw broccoli offers a broad spectrum of essential nutrients including protein (2.6 grams), dietary fiber (2.4 grams), Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (34.6 milligrams), vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, and B12, as well as folate (57.3 milligrams), and choline (17 milligrams). Broccoli is also a great source of minerals including calcium (42.8 milligrams), trace amounts of iron (.7 milligrams), magnesium (19.1 milligrams), phosphorous (60.1 milligrams), potassium (288 milligrams), sodium (30 milligrams), and selenium (2.3 mcg).
Broccoli is a staple in plant-based diets. Its meaty texture, high-nutrition value, and versatility make it a great filler in dishes. Yet, there are right and wrong ways to cook this tough, bitter veggie. To begin, farm fresh broccoli will offer great nutritious benefits over frozen. It’s recommended to avoid boiling broccoli. Boiling leaches out the nutrients, dulls the flavor, and drains that bright, beautiful coloring. That leaves three great options for cooking broccoli: steam, sauté, and stir-fry.
When steaming, make sure not to over-steam your broccoli. Generally, 10 to 15 minutes is enough or until your broccoli begins to release a strong scent, turns dark green, and become pliable and soft. Steamed broccoli is great in salads, such as this salad recipe for Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Chickpeas, Kale, Sprouts, and Seeds or this Sesame Tofu + Broccoli salad. Stir-fry and sautéed broccoli is a very traditional way to cook broccoli. Make sure to use ample amounts of your preferred oil — to crisp use higher burning oil such as avocado, grape seed, or coconut and to soften use lower burning oil such as olive oil — and always keep your eye on the veggie. Flavor is key in a stir-fry such as these recipes for Indian Spicy Potatoes and Broccoli, Stir-Fried Tempeh With Orange Sauce, Quick High-Protein Vegetable Stir-Fry, and Indian-Chinese Broccoli Manchurian Stir Fry.
Broccolini goes by many names including Sweet Baby Broccoli, Brocoletti, and Brocolette. This type of broccoli is actually a cross between traditional broccoli and Chinese broccoli. Chinese broccoli — also referred to as Chinese kale or traditionally kai-lan and gai-lan — is part of the cruciferous family sharing similar traits such as hardy stems, small florets, and large flat leaves. Chinese broccoli is usually found in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai recipes. Due to naturally occurring cross-breeding, broccolini offers familiar notes of broccoli, yet has a sweeter flavor similar to asparagus. Broccolini is also a much more tender and delicate vegetable than broccoli.
With that said, broccolini lacks some of the essential nutrients that traditional broccoli has. One cup of broccolini has protein (2.4 grams), carbohydrates (5.8 grams), and dietary fiber (3.7 grams). While it doesn’t offer as many vitamins and minerals as broccoli, broccolini is not completely lacking. One cup has vitamin A (270 ug) and C (117 milligrams), sodium (35 milligrams), potassium (343 mg), calcium, and iron.
When it comes to cooking, broccolini is best when sautéed or added to a stir-fry. Due to its tender nature, when boiled or steamed broccolini tends to become limp and noodle-like, as well as flavorless. Try a few of these stir-fry recipes: Broccolini and Shiitake Stir-Fry or this Spicy Lemon Sautéed Broccolini. With that said, broccolini can also be a creative recipe addition such as these Broccolini Pesto and Ricotta Tarts, Sweet Potato, Broccolini, and Corn Soup, or this Roasted Broccolini and Balsamic Quesadillas.
Health Benefits of Broccoli and Broccolini
While broccoli and broccolini differ in their look and taste, they do share many of the same health benefits.
With ample servings of both vitamin K and C, broccoli and broccolini aid in blood clotting (via vitamin K) and help protect the body from damaging free radicals due to vitamin C’s powerful antioxidant properties. They are also both great sources for dietary fiber which promotes healthy digestion, lower cholesterol, and healthier gut bacteria. Last, but definitely not least, is protein. Organs, tissue, muscles, and hormones are all created with and sustained by protein making it one of the essential parts of your diet. Not only does protein help with weight loss and maintenance, but it also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and aids in your body’s ability to absorb nutrition.
For a more easy, delicious, and plant-based broccoli and broccolini recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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