There is quite a bit of research showcasing broccoli’s cancer-fighting powers. These powers often come from a compound called sulforaphane, a phytochemical. As few as 3 servings each week of this cruciferous veggie can decrease your risk of cancer, but some forms of broccoli are more potent than others. For example, researchers with the University of Illinois found that frozen broccoli is lacking in the compound offering protection against cancer. Luckily, they also discovered a way that food producers could put the benefits back inside this favorite green vegetable.
The researchers conducting the study, which was published in the Journal of Functional Foods, found that frozen broccoli loses its powerful nutritional punch as it goes through processing. Food processors blanche the vegetables, heating it to high temperatures to preserve the color and taste while it is on shelves. But these high temperature blasts also destroy something called myrosinase—an enzyme necessary in forming sulforaphane.
“We know this important enzyme is gone because in our first study we tested three commercially frozen broccoli samples before and after cooking. There was very little potential to form sulforaphane before the frozen broccoli was cooked and essentially none after it was cooked as recommended,” said Edward B. Dosz, a graduate student on the project.
But, the researchers then did a second study, looking at potential solutions to this disappointing finding. They found that by simply reducing the temperature at which the broccoli is processed, food producers could maintain the myrosinase, thereby keeping the health benefits at higher levels. The difference is a mere 10 degrees Celsius, and still seems to provide the food safety benefits producers are after.
Also, the researchers found another way to boost sulforaphane, using radishes. They sprinkled just 0.25 percent of daikon radish on the frozen broccoli. Invisible to the naked eye, this small amount of radish was able to work in conjunction with the broccoli to form health-boosting, cancer-fighting sulforaphane.
The food industry has two viable options here for significantly increasing the health concentration of frozen broccoli. But, as we know, that industry isn’t always concerned with consumer health.
While we wait to see if any producers will take the leap and follow the researchers suggestions, you can switch to fresh broccoli rather than frozen, or add other cancer-fighting vegetables to your frozen broccoli dish. Things like radishes, cabbage, arugula and horseradish could produce a cancer-fighting combination.