You've probably never experienced a broccoli shortage—though a broccoli shortage did hit Spain just this month. But nightmares of bare broccoli shelves don't have to keep you up at night to want better broccoli all year round. Broccoli, like any other vegetable or fruit, tastes best when it's in season (during midsummer, according to Joshua McFadden's upcoming book Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables). But new research shows this vegetable could soon be in season all year long.
First, here's a little bit about how broccoli is grown: We eat the flowering part of this vegetable and, like other flowering plants, broccoli requires cold weather before it blossoms. That's made this vegetable very dependent on Mother Nature—until now.
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Researchers at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom recently set out to develop a new line of broccoli that's impervious to weather conditions—a climate-proof crop, if you will. And they were successful. The new broccoli line goes from seed to harvest in as little as eight weeks, and can grow two full crops each season when planted outdoors. But perhaps more importantly, this new broccoli can grow all year long in protected conditions, meaning the world may never have to face a broccoli shortage—or a tasteless, out-of-season bite of broccoli—ever again.
How'd they do it? "We harnessed our knowledge of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster," researcher Caroline Dean explained, adding the new crop can be grown up to five times a year in protected conditions.
"This is a very exciting development as it has the potential to remove our exposure to seasonal weather fluctuations from crop production," said lead researcher Judith Irwin. "This could mean broccoli—and in the future, other vegetables where the flower is eaten, for example, cauliflowers—can be grown anywhere at any time, enabling continuous production and supply of fresh local produce."
But before this new line of broccoli can be delivered to farmers and eventually, consumers, it needs to undergo additional nutritional analysis and performance testing. That testing is already underway and looks promising.