Birth and history of broccoli, from the Etruscans to the present – Italian Cuisine

Birth and history of broccoli, the vegetable with extraordinary beneficial properties: from the invention of the ancient Romans to the spread in Europe, up to the landing in America

In the very wide variety of vegetables "made in Italy", one particularly worthy of interest because of his valuable nutritional properties and the broccoli, or the cabbage variety notoriously little loved by children. This vegetable, a real cure-all for our health, is now widespread in most of Europe and the world, but few know that it originated in southern Italy. Let's go then to discover the main stages in the history of broccoli, starting from the Etruscans and the ancient Romans and arriving until the landing in the United States.

Broccoli, the vegetable loved by the Etruscans and ancient Romans

The cabbage family, to which the broccoli belongs, he was much loved by the Etruscans, who appreciated both the taste and the beneficial properties.
This ancient civilization of skilled navigators was in fact devoted to cultivation and it is thanks to the Etruscans and their famous Mediterranean trade that the cabbage also reached the Phoenicians, the ancient Greeks and the populations of the current islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Big cabbage lovers were also the ancient Romans, so much so that the famous naturalist Pliny the Elder, between the years 23 and 79 AD, wrote about how this civilization used to cultivate and cook them. It is to them that the merit of the creation of the first variety of broccoli, called Calabrian broccoli, as well as the etymology of the term that derives from the Latin brachium, ie arm, branch or sprout. It is said that the Romans used to boil broccoli along with a mixture of spices, onion, wine and oil (as evidenced in the cookbooks of the Apicius gastronomist) or serve them accompanied to creamy sauces prepared with aromatic herbs or wine, as it is said that they used to eat them raw before banquets to ensure that the body absorbed alcohol better.

The sapling-shaped superfood that has conquered the world

There broccoli spread outside the Italian territory he began in 1533, when Caterina de ’Medici married Henry II and introduced this precious vegetable into the French court, of which at the time were also part of Italian chefs. After France it was the turn of theEngland, where the broccoli were nicknamed Italian asparagus, as mentioned in the 1724 edition of Gardener's Dictionary by Miller. In both countries, broccoli became popular with the passage of time, but the initial reception was not the best, also due to the unpleasant smell of sulfur emanating during cooking. In 1922 two immigrants from Messina brought broccoli seeds to California, giving rise to the first plantation in the city of San Jose, and then contributed to their distribution also in other cities. In the United States, unlike European countries, these vegetables established themselves rapidly and successfully, and already in the 30s their popularity was consolidated.

Around the world in the last thirty years, thanks to new cooking methods and new discoveries on health benefits, including antioxidant properties that help prevent some forms of cancer, the consumption of broccoli has tripled. The most known and loved varieties are the Calabrese, rosette-shaped, and the Romanesco broccoli, known for its pyramidal shape with many small spiral rosettes.

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