Samui Wining & Dining
Knowing Your Onions

When it comes to what’s good for you, broccoli is hard to beat!


4Up for a sharp snap of vitamin C? Then buzz for the broccoli. Potassium poor? Partner-up with broccoli. Is your fibre furtive? Fix it – broccoli-wise. Need a quick boost of iron? Fill your pockets with horse-shoes. No – that was just to keep you reading! But, to be serious, overall, broccoli is a bit of a star.

    Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family and is most closely related to cauliflower. But this is somewhat misleading, as the closest relatives are the diminutive Brussels sprouts and also kale, which is essentially a leafy vegetable. However, one thing that they all share is a ramped-up nourishment scale – they’re all very good for you. But let’s leave the serious stuff for a moment because, out of all the family, broccoli is a bit of a joker.

      Well, not actually broccoli itself; you won’t catch it with its own show on prime-time TV. But more in the fables, legends and tales which it’s attracted. It’s been around for quite a while. A thousand years before the birth of Christ we know that the Rasenna people of Asia Minor (now called Turkey) began cultivating cabbages, the forefathers of broccoli.

These cruciferous vegetables were also grown along the Eastern Mediterranean. And, during the 8th century BC, the Rasenna began their migration to Italy, trading with (and spreading their broccoli to) the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians as they went, before eventually reaching Rome. This was where this unassuming little vegetable firmly took root and became a big hit almost immediately.

       Tales still exist about the Roman Emperor Tiberius, whose son, Drusius, took his love of broccoli to excess. Eventually turning his back on all other food, he gorged himself on nothing but broccoli for an entire month. It was only when his urine turned bright green (and quite possibly his entire body too, but that’s not recorded) that his father called a halt and reprimanded him severely for “living precariously”.

Broccoli seems to have landed in Europe in the 16th century when Catherine de Medici introduced it to France in 1533. And it’s recorded as having crossed the Channel to England not long after, when Miller’s Garden Dictionary of 1724 referred to it as the “flower sprout of the colli flower”. However, it became much more amusing after it had arrived in America, particularly much later, in the repertoire of President George W Bush. Probably the most genial of all that nation’s presidents, and undoubtedly the most amusing, in 1990 he stated that “. . . I do not like broccoli, and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. I’m now President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” However, so enraged were American broccoli farmers that, within a week, ten tons of broccoli had been dumped outside The White House in protest. Chew on that George (it’s really good for you!).


      In a similar and possibly semi-presidential vein, another American folk hero, Homer Simpson, in an episode screened in 2000 and entitled ‘Treehouse of Horror XI’, suddenly died after eating broccoli. Of course, in the true and satirical spirit of the program, nothing could be further from the real world. But the inheritance of George W lingers on as the dialogue runs: Doctor: “Another broccoli-related death.” Marge: “But I thought broccoli was . . .” Doctor: “It’s one of the deadliest plants on earth. It tries to warn you itself with its terrible taste.” Which of course is cheerful nonsense, but it’s all good, clean fun.

      And just to show how far from the truth that Homeresque cameo actually was, chew on this. Broccoli is actually one the superheroes of the vegetable kingdom, with its rich vitamin A content – note the dark green colour, indicating the high level of carotene. Though somewhat bitter, the leaves are also edible and contain generous amounts of vitamin A. Folic acid is also abundant, and there’s a great deal of calcium, too. A cup of broccoli gives you 10% of your daily iron requirement, and the vitamin C content helps the body to absorb the iron. One cup actually fulfils your daily vitamin C requirement. Plus there’s only 44 calories per cup. Though this exceptional vegetable is not a powerhouse of protein, it does contain four grams a cup and additionally four grams of fibre. So much for nourishment. But the medicinal benefits are also outstanding.

      Though definitive proof has yet to be published, the USA National Cancer Institute has suggested that broccoli, along with its family members, may be instrumental in the prevention of several types of cancer. Because of its impressive nutritional profile, broccoli and its kin could be responsible for boosting certain enzymes that help to detoxify the body. These enzymes help to prevent cancer (including leukaemia) diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

      Broccoli (along with onions, carrots, and cabbage) may also help to lower blood cholesterol. At the US Department of Agriculture’s regional research center in Philadelphia, two researchers (Dr. Peter Hoagland and Dr. Philip Pfeffer) have discovered that these vegetables contain a certain pectin fibre, calcium pectate, that binds to bile acids, holding more cholesterol in the liver and releasing less into the bloodstream. They actually proved broccoli to be equally as effective as several of the (costly) proprietary branded cholesterol-lowering drugs. And broccoli’s wealth of the trace mineral chromium may be effective in preventing adult-onset diabetes. Trials have found that found chromium boosts the ability of insulin to perform, in people with slight glucose intolerance.

      You’re in Thailand. And, overall, Thai cuisine is one of the healthiest diets that you’ll come across anywhere. It contains virtually zero animal fats, only fresh ingredients (with nothing frozen or out of a tin) and is high in protein, fibre and most of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. But you’ll find that the local Thai restaurants and street stalls aren’t big on ‘exotic’ vegetables. Items like broccoli need the colder climes found in Thailand’s northern regions, and so are expensive to ship to Samui. But just try a Thai vegetable dish in one of the better restaurants, or in your resort. You’ll be delighted with the results as, done properly, there’s little to beat a fully-flavoured Thai vegetable curry or sweet and sour dish. And if it’s not crammed with baby corn, petite pois, asparagus tips – and broccoli – ask for them the next time. After all, there’s no point in missing-out on one of nature’s little marvels, is there?


Rob De Wet


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