Produce 101: Cruciferous
Here, Dan talks about cruciferous vegetables–a vast category, also known as Brassica. Here’s the basics you need to know to get started.
Cruciferous, or brassica, vegetables are an amazingly diverse group of vegetables, ranging from stalky items such as broccoli, to leafy greens such as arugula and even root vegetables such as turnips. Horseradish somehow fits in the category too! The name cruciferous refers to the flowers these plants produce, a four petal bloom that resembles a cross, or crucifer. The flavors range from mild to extremely pungent, they can be used raw or cooked and all are nutritional powerhouses.
The one thing all cruciferous vegetables have in common are sulfur producing compounds called glucosinolates. Proper cooking and preparation can alleviate the pungent smell that some people associate with this group of vegetables.
So, if you remember back when you were young and your parents cooked Brussels sprouts in boiling water on the stove and that wonderful aroma filled up the house, that’s the sulfur compound breaking down.
How to Avoid the *Problem* with Cooking Cruciferous
So, what are some better ways to utilize this great family of vegetables? Well, with the leafy and bud plants–roasting, grilling, and even sauteing neutralizes that sulfur compound and brings out a nice nutty flavor enhancing the the natural sweetness of the vegetable. Turnips need to be roasted or braised because they’re a hard root vegetable but still in the family. Better yet, if you’ve got the greens from the turnips cook those with a little bit of bacon and onion for a great side dish.
Horseradish, you may only see in jars… it’s actually a root vegetable. We grind it up, and the more we grind it the hotter it gets. So how do we stop it–they add a little vinegar to slow it down.
Storage and Handling
Storage and handling vary as much as you might imagine, with some items being a bit more forgiving than others, but generally speaking, they can all be kept around 35° F. When looking at leafy greens and stalky/head forming items, make sure the cut root end isn’t browning and that the heads or buds are not yellowing. For root vegetables, make sure the root itself is free from decay and is firm and dense to the touch.
Most cruciferous items do have a USDA grade, though not all of them do. As with most items, the standards are based mostly on physical appearance and uniformity of shape, with the designation being mostly #1 or #2. Since the grade standard is more often than not based on appearance, if you’re processing the item instead of using it whole, the #2 grade may be a great way to save some money on your menus.
The Cruciferous family is vast, here are some common members:
Click the hyperlinks to read more about each one
- Broccoli sprouts
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cabbage, Green
- Cabbage, Red
- Cabbage, Napa
- Cabbage, Savoy
- Gai Lan
- Bok Choy
- Collard Greens
- Mustard greens
- Swiss Chard
- Tat Soi
- Turnip Greens
Check out Dan in Produce 101: Cruciferous Vegetables
Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Additional contributions by Lisa Pettineo.
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