One of the most loved edible plants is broccoli. Broccolis are packed with vitamin C, fiber, iron, and many other essential nutrients — no wonder they always end up in health menus. While broccolis are popular, not everyone eats them or knows much about them, even whether or not they’re a fruit or vegetable.
Broccoli is a vegetable, specifically its stems. It’s not a fruit as botany defines fruit as a plant part that develops from the flower. Except for seedless plants, the fruit forms after pollination fertilizes the flower. Fruits contain seeds that allow the plant to reproduce.
Scientists and chefs offer more reasons for classifying broccoli as a vegetable, and botanists have more to add to broccoli’s description. Read on to learn more about why broccoli is a vegetable and what other category botanists would add.
Chefs Classify Broccoli as a Vegetable Based on Their Taste
A chef’s main focus is on how foods taste, how the flavors blend, and the overall impact that blend has on individual dishes and the meal as a whole. Consequently, and not surprisingly, chefs categorize fruits and vegetables mainly by taste but also in part by how they’re prepared. Chefs describe fruits as generally sweet-tasting and as foods often served raw.
Sweet isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when describing broccoli, but that’s because broccoli contains a compound that includes a large amount of sulfur. Cooking minimizes the effect of the sulfur in broccoli’s taste, which explains why chefs rarely include broccoli in salads, even though broccoli can be eaten raw.
Chefs describe the flavor of vegetables as savory. Human beings taste five basic flavors: salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and savory. In contrast to salty and sweet foods, savory foods offer more than a single note. Savory foods have rich, full flavors.
Aged cheeses, some alcoholic beverages, soy sauce, and soups and broths all have savory flavors. Broccoli’s flavor definitely fits into the savory category.
Botanists Focus on the Edible Parts of a Broccoli
Botanists care about the taste of the foods they eat. When it comes to the difference between fruits and vegetables, they care about the role the edible parts of the plant fulfill.
To a botanist, the fruit of the plant holds the seeds. Edible roots, tubers, stalks, leaves, and flowers are vegetables. If people eat the part of the plant that holds the seeds, they’re eating the fruit. If people eat another part of a soft-stemmed herbaceous plant, they eat a vegetable.
Since we eat the stalk and head of broccoli, we’re eating a vegetable and not a fruit.
Broccoli’s Seed-Bearing Fruit Develops From the Head
So, since we eat the stalk and the heads of broccoli, and those aren’t seed-bearing fruits, why does confusion about classifying broccoli remain? The confusion remains because broccoli produces a seed-bearing fruit that isn’t used as food. It also continues because no one thinks of broccoli as a flowering plant.
Broccoli is all green. Where’s the flower that produces the fruit?
Broccoli’s seed-bearing fruit develops from the head, and that’s the flower even though we don’t think of it that way. The green head is actually a cluster of tightly closed buds that open to release yellow flowers when broccoli’s roots are exposed to hot soil.
You can still eat the head after the flowers emerge. They have a nutty flavor and a texture that some people enjoy, but others don’t. But after the flowers appear, broccoli begins transferring all the nutrition it possesses from the parts we eat to the developing seeds. So, it loses its dietary value.
If you’d rather prevent the buds from opening, the Gardening Channel offers tips on keeping the roots cool to delay broccoli’s flowering.
However, the fact remains that we eat the buds and flowers before the fruit develops, so we’re eating a vegetable, not a fruit.
Broccoli Is Related to Cabbage
Another reason botanists classify broccoli as a vegetable is its family ties.
Broccoli comes from a large family known as the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family, also referred to as the mustard or cabbage family. Cruciferae comes from the four-petalled flowers which resemble a cross. The ancestral members were a variety of wild cabbage native to the Mediterranean coast.
Once the Romans discovered the plant, they began cultivating it, and it spread throughout the Roman empire. Even in Europe, different cultures bred it according to their preferences. Their choices developed tall or low-growing plants with loose leaves, plants that formed small heads, plants that formed large heads, and plants that formed edible roots.
Thanks to all of that selective breeding, the Brassicaceae family now includes kale, collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, and watercress, among others. No one debates classifying all of these related plants as vegetables. So, botanists contend that broccoli, as a related member of the Brassicaceae family, also belongs to the vegetable family.
Remember, though, broccoli is not only a vegetable but also a flower to a botanist.
Are All Broccoli’s Edible Parts Vegetables?
So, the whole confusion about whether broccoli is a fruit or a vegetable arises because what we think of as the head is actually the flower. The flower produces the fruit, but the flower isn’t the fruit. It’s a vegetable.
All of the broccoli’s edible parts are vegetables. To fully satisfy botanists with our broccoli classification, we need to add that it’s a flower vegetable.
One thing that’s not debated, though, is that broccoli provides a wealth of vitamins and minerals like many members of the Brassicaceae family. In the title of her cookbook, Laura B. Russell refers to them as “the world’s healthiest vegetables.”
The cookbook, Laura B. Russell Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables (available on Amazon.com), includes 80 recipes designed to bring out the natural flavors of the vegetables without overcooking them or drowning them under a cheese sauce.
Your kids might debate the flavor of the vegetables with you. They might agree with former President George W. Bush’s position on broccoli. If so, the cookbook Heston Brown Broccoli and Kids (available on Amazon.com) focuses on adding broccoli to dishes that kids already like. That sounds like a winning argument to me. If this cookbook doesn’t work, try telling your kids they’re eating a flower, not a vegetable.
Broccoli is a vegetable, not fruit. Chefs classify broccolis as vegetables, thanks to their distinctive taste and texture. Meanwhile, botanists classify broccoli as a vegetable-based on the plant’s edible parts.
A botanist understands the fruit of a plant holds the seeds. Edible roots, tubers, stalks, leaves, and flowers are all considered vegetables.
If you consume the part of a plant that holds the seeds, you’re eating the fruit. However, if you eat another part of a soft-stemmed herbaceous plant, you’re eating a vegetable. Typically, we eat broccoli heads and stalks, so we eat vegetables.
- New World Encyclopedia: Broccoli
- Table Agent: Umami: the Savory Fifth Taste
- Gardening Channel: Can You Eat Broccoli When It Starts to Flower?