A broccoli hybrid plant beginning to flower at a Cornell University greenhouse in Geneva, N.Y., June 11, 2013. Thomas Bjorkman and his team at Cornell are creating new seeds that will flower in warmer climates, eliminating the need to ship the vegetable from far away and improving its taste. (Heather Ainsworth/The New York Times)
There it sits, a deep-green beauty at the farmers’ market: that sweet, crisp nutritional dynamo we know as fresh local broccoli.
And then there’s this — a bitter, rubbery mass that’s starting to turn yellow around the tips, all bumped and bruised from its long trip from the field to the supermarket.
For all the wonders of fresh broccoli, in most parts of the country it is available from local growers only during the cooler weeks at either end of the growing season, nowhere near long enough to become a fixture in grocery stores or kitchens. Broccoli hates too much heat, which is why 90 percent of it sold in the United States comes from temperate California, which is often bathed by fog. The heads are fine if you live there, but for the rest of us they require a long truck ride (four or five days to the East Coast) and then some waiting time in a warehouse, tarnishing the appeal of a vegetable that health experts can’t praise enough.
But Thomas Bjorkman, a plant scientist at Cornell University, and a team of researchers are out to change all that. They’ve created a new version of the plant that can thrive in hot, steamy summers like those in New York, South Carolina or Iowa, and that is easy and inexpensive enough to grow in large volumes.
And they didn’t stop there. This crucifer is also crisp, subtly sweet and utterly tender when eaten fresh-picked, which could lift the pedestrian broccoli into the ranks of the vegetable elite. The new broccoli is part of a mad dash by Cornell scientists to remake much of the produce aisle. The goal is to help shift American attitudes toward fruits and vegetables by increasing their allure and usefulness in cooking, while maintaining or even increasing their nutritional loads. Next up for his team is the shopper. Focus groups are planned for this summer.
new york times