What do raw broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes arugula and bok choy have in common? They are all members of the cruciferous family of vegetables. As such, these raw cruciferous vegetables are the produce aisle-equivalent of a wonder drug for protecting the brain, eye-sight, reducing free radicals, eliminating toxins and preventing cancer .
Unfortunately, most individual’s intake of crucifers is low and their intake of raw crucifers is even lower. Raw Brussels sprouts anyone? While cooked crucifers are nutrient-dense, providing fiber, vitamin C, calcium and more, the cooked versions lack sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a molecule within the isothiocyanate group of organosulfur compounds. It is the equivalent of a pharmaceutical drug’s main active ingredient and is most responsible for broccoli’s health benefits.
Sulforaphane is the result of a basic chemical reaction. Raw crucifers contain glucorophanin, a glucosinolate. They also contain the enzyme myrosinase. Chewing or chopping broccoli with a knife combines the two compounds. And, given some time, whether digesting in your stomach or resting on your cutting board, the result is sulforaphane.
Unfortunately, myrosinase is deactivated by heat. Therefore, cooking crucifers reduces or eliminates the sulforaphane production. This same disadvantage applies to frozen crucifers, such as the bags of frozen broccoli in the freezer aisle. According to the Journal of Functional Foods, prior to flash freezing, commercial frozen broccoli has been blanched, quickly immersed in hot water, thereby deactivating the enzymes to extend shelf-life.
This information brings two questions to mind.
- Is eating crucifers raw the only way to derive their full health benefits?
- What if I’m not so fond of raw crucifers?
Luckily, there are three ways to get the full benefits of raw crucifers, even when cooked.
Strategy #1: “Hack and Hold”
Chop the crucifers into bite-sized pieces and wait at least 40 minutes before consuming. This is enough time for the myrosinase to combine with the glucorophanin to create sulforaphane. Then, cook the crucifers at your leisure.
Strategy #2: Add Raw Crucifers to Cooked Crucifers
Apparently, myrosinase is a very potent enzyme. A little goes a long way. In fact, the active myrosinase from raw crucifers can combine with the glucorophanin from the cooked vegetables to create sulforaphane. So, consume a small amount of raw crucifers with cooked crucifers to gain the benefits of sulforaphane.
Strategy #3: Add Mirosinase From Other Crucifers
While most of us don’t have easy access to vials of myrosinase, as used in research, we can add myrosinase from our pantry. Research has shown that mustard seed powder to cooked vegetables provides the active myrosinase required to create sulforaphane. Remember, mustard greens are in the cruciferous family.
Again, a little goes a long way. In research studies, just a 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seed powder was enough to create sulforaphane for seven cups of cooked crucifers. Enzymes are powerful catalysts. So, just a pinch is all that is needed for an individual serving of cooked crucifers. Sprinkle a bit on top of the cooked vegetables, or add some mustard seed powder to your favorite mustard vinaigrette for dressing the cooked crucifers. Alternatively, add wasabi, horseradish or daikon, other sources of myrosinase, to the cooked crucifers and voila, you have sulforaphane. .
Find this type culinary nutrition research interesting? Check out Michael Greger, MD’s site, Nutritionfacts.org. This post is based on the research he shared in his Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli video . His clever nutrition videos are full of dry humor. I think of him as the Alton Brown of nutrition science!
Related Post: Mustard Seed Vinaigrette -And How to Make Sulforaphane!
 C Fimognari, P Hrelia. Sulforaphane as a promising molecule for fighting cancer. Mutat Res. 2007 May-Jun;635(2-3):90-104.
 R Verkerk, M Schreiner, A Krumbein, E Ciska, B Holst, I Rowland, R D Schrijver, M Hansen, C Gerh!user, R Mithen, M Dekker. Glucosinolates in Brassica vegetables: The influence of the food supply chain on intake, bioavailability and human health. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Sep;53 Suppl 2:S219.