Antioxidants, vitamins and very few calories. Spanish broccoli is inundating more and more markets
Broccoli plant, cultivated in Murcia, Spanish region located in Spain's southeast corner. ©+Broccoli.
Author: Rodrigo García Fernández/©ICEX.
Translation: Adrienne Smith/©ICEX.
Publication Date: 12 Jul 2012
Foods low in fat, low-calorie, probiotic, vitamin enriched...the food industry is constantly launching products that respond to the market’s demand for healthy foods. However, there are many foods that in their natural states can be considered almost medicinal. One of these is broccoli, of which Spain is the world’s third producer and first exporter. Ladies and gentlemen, now THIS is a product that is 100% healthy (and natural).
A broccoli omelet, broccoli with cream sauce and melted cheese, hot cream of broccoli soup in the winter or cold broccoli “gazpacho” in the summer...the list of applications for cooking this vegetable at home goes on and on. But its healthy qualities are also numerous, revealed thanks to research carried out in institutions and universities in Europe and the United States over the past several years.
Broccoli, a crucifer belonging to the same family as cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, is one of the most popular vegetables among Europeans and North Americans. Much of the broccoli that is sold in these international markets comes from Spain, which boasts a production area that is completely given over to this crop: the Region of Murcia, located in Spain’s southeast corner in the Mediterranean basin.
Spain, leading nation
The statistics for the Spanish broccoli market more than speak for themselves. In 2011, Spain produced 375,000 tons of this vegetable on 30,000 hectares, 75% of which are in Murcia. Of this total production volume, 230,000 tons were destined for export, mainly to European countries. The United Kingdom is the principal destination, accounting for 45% of the total, followed by Germany, Holland and France.
One of the main reasons behind the sale of this Spanish agricultural food product has to do with its health benefits. In late 2011, within the framework of the annual Fruit Attraction conference in Madrid, an international symposium was held on broccoli, during which the latest research on this food was presented.
One of the speakers was Elizabeth Jeffery, a Nutrition professor at the University of Illinois, in the United States. In declarations to www.foodsfromspain.com, this researcher explained the keys to the broccoli-health binomial: “Cruciferous vegetables are more effective than other vegetables in the prevention of illnesses like colon or prostate cancer. Among them, broccoli is particularly effective due to the fact that, in addition to large amounts of vitamins A and C, broccoli provides phytochemicals (glucosinolates, flavonoides and selenium) that have important antioxidant and anti-aging qualities.”
Product and image
What is European consumers’ perception of Spanish broccoli? To respond to this question, we turned to Simón Conesa, president of the + Brócoli Association. Based in Murcia, this organization is dedicated to promoting the consumption of this vegetable: “For European consumers, Spanish broccoli is synonymous with quality. The control mechanisms implemented by Spanish broccoli producers have made our country’s broccoli the best in terms of food safety. It also possesses guarantees that, from a societal point of view, are not found in other countries’ production zones, with regards to the environment, labor laws and social corporate responsibility.”
The image of Spanish broccoli takes on additional value when considering the product’s immediate availability, as well as its quality service. According to Simón Conesa: “The technification that has been achieved by broccoli producers has in many cases led to the cutting and preparation of this product for shipping to supermarket chains being carried out directly in the fields. Processing platforms make it possible to get the broccoli to its point of sale in record time, thereby guaranteeing the maximum freshness that is so important to this product.”
Broccoli in the kitchen
One of the challenges faced by producers and vendors of Spanish broccoli is how to introduce this product to new consumers. This is one of the objectives of + Brócoli, which has created a book of simple recipes that provides new tips on how to use broccoli in our kitchens. Additionally, + Brócoli collaborates with a chef and culinary professor from Murcia named Juan Antonio Pellicer, as well as television chef Sergio Pérez. They help spread the word about new and easy recipes using broccoli at industry conferences or international trade fairs.
In the realm of Spanish avant-garde cuisine, one of the country’s leading chefs in terms of the culinary use of vegetables is Rodrigo de la Calle, owner of the homonymous restaurant located in Aranjuez (40 miles from Madrid). His passion for vegetables doesn’t exclude broccoli, which he uses in dishes such as Cauliflower cooked in seaweed water and fried, accompanied by warm mayonnaise with lavender essence (Coliflor al natural, cocida en agua de algas y frita, mayonesa tibia con aromas flores a lavanda), and Cruciferous vegetable couscous made with broccoli, cauliflower and romanescu (Cous-cous de crucíferas). In his book Gastrobotánica, 100 Platos al Natural para Cada Estación del Año (100 natural dishes for every season of the year), Rodrigo provides the keys to making a fabulous and healthy Broccoli with lemon verbena-steamed mussels (Brócoli con mejillones hervidos al vapor de hierbaluisa), at home.
Outside of Spain, one of the staunchest champions of the culinary qualities of broccoli is the popular Dutch chef Pierre Wind, who offers us a few pieces of advice: “Broccoli has a sweet flavor that easily attracts neophytes, but that disappears when overcooked. A blast of heat is sufficient to eliminate the raw vegetable flavor and develop its interesting sweetness.” What is the best ally for seasoning a plate of broccoli? This Dutch chef has no doubt: extra virgin olive oil. A perfect combination of flavor and health: broccoli and olive oil, both made in Spain.
Rodrigo García Fernández is specialist food journalist and editorial coordinator of www.foodsfromspain.com.