Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables. At just 34 calories per 100 grams, it supplies 148% of the vitamin C we need for a whole day. Did you know that 100 g of oranges would supply only 88%? Broccoli also supplies vitamins A, E and K, folates and vitamin B6, and the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Broccoli provides minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. And like many vegetables, it is a good source of dietary fibre.
But please, don’t cook broccoli in your crockpot!
Broccoli in the Crockpot? Phew, What a Stench!
I have generally cooked broccoli two ways in my life: steamed (my preferred method) and in stir fries. But when my neighbour began talking about freezer to crockpot meals, I fell in love with my slow cooker all over again. The convenience of chopping all my vegetables in a single afternoon and having freezer meals for a week was great. So I started to do most of my cooking in our trusty crockpot.
Most of the recipes I tried during that first month of freezer to crockpot cooking were heavy on the root vegetables. Specifically, they had a lot of onions, carrots, and potatoes. But there were several recipes that incorporated nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. I have to admit that I balked a bit at the idea of including these vegetables in recipes for the slow cooker, especially because cauliflower and broccoli become limp and tasteless if they’re overcooked. What I hadn’t expected was the stench.
Oh yes my friends, broccoli smells bad when you cook it in your crockpot!
The very first time we tried what was supposed to be a healthy beef and broccoli crock pot recipe, the whole house just reeked of sulfur. (Not to mention that the broccoli was mushy and lifeless, as I had feared it would be.) I tried tweaking my recipe by replacing the fresh broccoli I’d used at first with the commercially frozen stuff that was actually called for in the beef and broccoli recipe. I tried adding the broccoli during just the last hour. I tried tweaking the crockpot setting and the cooking time. But nothing really improved the situation all that much. It just stank. No matter what we tried, the smell was atrocious.
Using a crockpot to cook broccoli just seems to bring out the smell of sulfur more than other methods of cooking. I suspect it’s a combination of the longer, lower-temperature cooking and the contained moisture that is intended mainly for cooking hardier vegetables and less tender cuts of meat. While I have heard that some people are bothered by a bad smell when cooking boiled or steamed broccoli, I can’t remember it ever being an issue for me. It’s just trying to prepare broccoli in the slow cooker that stinks up my house.
Read more below…
Steamed Broccoli Cooks in Minutes
One question I eventually had to ask myself when I was in this full-on freezer to crockpot cooking craze was, Why am I cooking this meal in a slow cooker? A crockpot is an amazing tool for a busy family. A crockpot is a blessing when you’re feeding a big family on a budget, because you can buy inexpensive cuts of meat that are less tender and more flavourful. The longer cooking time helps to tenderize the meat, so the result is just as nice as the more expensive cuts.
A slow cooker is a huge help when you have school-age kids. It’s a relief to know dinner is taking care of itself when the kids are all coming in from school, wanting to tell Mama about their day, needing help with their homework, or waving the latest stack of permission slips and newsletters in your face. I’m sure many of you can relate!
But does that mean we need to cook every single meal in that much beloved crockpot? Is there a faster, more efficient way to cook your dinner? If food doesn’t need to be cooked slowly for several hours, then the answer is probably yes.
In the case of broccoli, it takes just minutes to cook. You can make steamed broccoli on the stovetop in about 3-5 minutes. Blanching broccoli in boiling water takes only 1-1/2 minutes. Cooking broccoli in a stir fry or steaming it in the microwave takes under 5 minutes. And even oven roasting your broccoli takes only about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.
So no, you don’t need a crockpot to cook your broccoli. You can do it any number of other ways in just minutes. Plopping it in the crockpot just isn’t saving you much time or work. And by cooking broccoli in the slow cooker, you’re missing out on important nutritional benefits.
Crockpot Cooking Diminishes Broccoli Nutrition
Remember that I mentioned broccoli smells like sulfur when it’s cooked in a crockpot? That’s because it, like other cruciferous vegetables, is high in sulfur content. I know that might be a turn-off for a lot of people. That rotten egg smell is not appetizing at all. So it’s understandable that you might not associate stinky food with nutrition.
But in fact, this sulfur is important to our bodies, being the third most abundant mineral by weight. Vegetables that contain large amounts of sulfur have a long list of health benefits. Organic sulfur compounds have the potential to prevent or treat a wide array of medical conditions, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Brassicas like broccoli are very rich in sulfur. And one of its sulfur-containing components in particular, called sulforaphane, is thought to be “one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food.”
Without getting too technical on you, sulfur is one of the key components of a class of chemicals called glucosinolates. They are what gives the pungent smell and strong taste to brassicas such as kale, mustard greens, cabbage, and of course, broccoli. When we chop, chew, and digest cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme is activated that breaks down the glucosinolates into antioxidants like sulforaphane and indoles (which have their own health benefits such as balancing hormones.)
There’s still more…
So here’s the problem with cooking broccoli in your slow cooker: the enzyme that makes sulfur-rich compounds like sulforaphane available to our bodies is destroyed by prolonged heating. Our bodies don’t do a great job of liberating that sulforaphane, so this is an issue.
Knowing that heat destroys the enzyme, the very best thing we can do when we make broccoli is to chop it up a bit before cooking, which starts the chemical breakdown. That should be followed by steaming for 3-4 minutes, or until it is “tough-tender.” This has actually been shown to increase the antioxidants, including sulforaphane. It has also been shown to improve the folate and carotenoid content of the broccoli, which means that you’re getting more of a whole bunch of nutrients when you steam your broccoli instead of tossing it into the crockpot.
So please, use fresh broccoli or blanch it at home and flash freeze it for later use. Your broccoli will be a nice, bright green. It will retain more of its crunch and flavour. And it will be more nutritious too!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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