A vegetable recipe shared by a fellow teacher became an instant hit when I tried it out for my folks. Henceforth, it is being made in my home at regular intervals. The combined seasoning of olive oil, garlic cloves, and roasted red pepper flakes that are integral in the preparation of the dish create an aroma that is very inviting. Before I keep anyone guessing about what vegetable I am talking about, let me reveal that it’s that bright green plant from the cabbage family: the broccoli!
The story is more than 2,000 years old with its origin in the northern Mediterranean. Broccoli has been commonly consumed among Italians since the time of the Roman empire.
I was not at all excited when I first tried out broccoli. But tastes, as they say, are always acquired, and over the years, I have started liking it. Of course, my preference is also reinforced by the fact that broccoli qualifies as one of the healthiest veggies that supplies heaps of nutrients while providing few calories.
During my twenty-three and a half years in India, I had never tasted broccoli. I am confident that the number of people who even knew about its existence was just a handful. The vegetable was not cultivated in the country till the early 90s. But surprisingly, what we witness today is a broccoli boom for the rural economy. So how did an exotic vegetable make its inroads in India?
The first seeds of broccoli were brought all the way by Jitendra Ladkot from Kenya around 1990 when the Gulf War was in progress. Born into a farming family, he started broccoli cultivation in his farm in Pune. Fast forwarding to present times, we see broccoli being grown on an extensive scale in different parts of the country. Foreseeing the favorability of the winter weather in Jharkand for broccoli cultivation, 150 farmers in 2017 underwent intensive training to grow the vegetable. It was perceived as the new money-spinner. And what essentially creates the record is that India is the second largest producer of broccoli after China!
The fact that broccoli is America’s favorite vegetable is official. An open-ended survey was conducted by vegetable brand Green Giant from April 20 to May 4 of last year to determine which vegetable was preferred in each state and the United States as a whole. Of the close to 4,000 veggie fans who responded to the survey, broccoli emerged as the winner in almost half of the states.
Who would think that broccoli has the potential to be the talk of a nation? Till recently, I was totally unaware about its interesting history. It’s rather intriguing how broccoli has become a political hot potato in the United States and has been the topic of controversy several times. While Thomas Jefferson, the third President was a broccoli enthusiast and imported seeds from Italy to plant on his estate in 1767, forty-first President George H.W. Bush had a bitter hatred for it and banned it from Air Force One. An amusing quote from him runs, “I do not like broccoli…. 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!”
As the wives of future US President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore headed the “Let’s put broccoli in the White House again” campaign in 1992. During a presidential visit to Mexico in 2001, George W. Bush gave a thumbs-down to the broccoli of President Vicente Fox. But a diametrically opposite reaction was given by his successor Barack Obama when he named broccoli as his favorite food in the annual Kids’ State Dinner hosted by his wife Michelle and attended by the winners of a competition that was conducted to design a healthy lunch recipe.
As I wind up this green tale, it’s worth reflecting on the health benefits of consuming this vegetable. Broccoli is a great source of vitamins K and C, a good source of folate (folic acid), and also provides potassium and fiber. An increasing intake decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality. Health studies have suggested that sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound present in broccoli, gives it a cancer-fighting power.
As much as this post on broccoli sounds like a paean to a revered member of the Brassica Oleracea species, it is not. It is simply the product of a random desire to research facts about a vegetable I was introduced to in my adulthood. Going green with envy is certainly not a positive trait, but there are wholesome plusses in discovering tidbits and going on a journey to incorporate green food in our diet that will help to lead life the healthy way!