The wide variety of brassica can be attributed to the fact they easily cross pollinate with each other. When desirable versions occurred like the leafy heads of the cabbage, the tasty flower buds of the broccoli or the swelled root of the turnip, they were bred by growers over the centuries to retain and improve these differences. Some say it was the Romans who first embraced this breeding programme to improve the varieties, while other variations were the result of the plant becoming inbred in more isolated environments. For example, the calabrese broccoli is named after its origins in Calabria in Southern Italy.
With such an extensive history, it isn’t surprising that many myths and ‘cures’ arose around the brassica family. The ancient Chinese believed cabbage could cure baldness, babies were said to be found “in the cabbage patches” and for some reason the famous baseballer Babe Ruth kept a cabbage leaf under his cap. However, the brassica family can benefit you in more sensible ways as a nutrient-rich crop with a very high concentration of Vitamin C among many other vitamins and minerals. It is claimed that one cup of shredded cabbage has 190% of the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C.
Brassica are such a versatile crop to eat, and can be prepared in many ways. Raw, steamed, stewed, sautéed, pickled and fermented are all good ways to try. Some people can find brassica bitter, due to a bitter tasting compound within the plant that some people can detect, and others can’t. A study has shown that children can often identify this compound when young, but as their taste buds mature, they may no longer taste it. So, if you struggle to get your children to eat their greens, it could be that they just don’t taste nice to them. Also, if you haven’t tried brussels sprouts since you were young (and hated them), give them another go - you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that you now enjoy them.
The bitter compounds can emerge if not stored correctly or if the plant is passed its best when harvested and was beginning to bolt. Most brassica can be kept dry and wrapped in plastic in the fridge for 2 or even 3 weeks. Broccoli is the exception, and doesn’t last long once harvested. Keep broccoli in the fridge and use it within 5 days to retain freshness. If you grow your own cabbage, harvest them with a long stalk and the outer leaves trimmed. Store them in a cool, slightly damp location for 3–4 months or even longer, checking often for signs of rotting.