Broccoli dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, when it was cultivated from wild cabbage native to coastal Europe. It was brought to the United States in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants to northern California. Currently, 90 percent of the domestic commercial market is supplied by California producers. Although it is not a popular vegetable worldwide, broccoli began gaining popularity in the 1970s, when consumption per person increased from about a half pound per year to the current 4 1/2 pounds. Today, broccoli ranks 11th among leading U.S. vegetable crops.
The broccoli plant is an upright annual, able to reach a height of 3 feet, with large spreading leaves. Usually grown from seed, broccoli is harvested 80 to 120 days after planting. The consumed portion of broccoli is actually a group of buds that are almost ready to flower. Overmature broccoli is tough and woody because the plant sugar is converted to lignin, a type of fiber that is not softened by cooking.
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