Lynda Hallinan: Broccoli ticks the health boxes but do you want to drink it?
OPINION: We live in strange times. At my local fruit store, you can currently pick up a pair of fresh pineapples for the same price – $8 – as a small cauliflower or two microcephalic broccoli heads. And frankly, who in their right mind would choose stir-fried brassicas over a round of pina coladas?
Broccoli, cabbages and cauliflowers aren't easy to grow at the best of times, let alone in an apocalyptic autumn that has seen entire paddocks of Pukekohe brassicas drowned in floods, not to mention millions of feijoas infested with guava moth larvae and myrtle rust blowing in on a foul wind.
It's enough to drive anyone to drink, although perhaps not all the way to a pot of detoxifying broccoli tea. It is, I kid you not, a thing.
In Napier, raw food company Wright Sprouts has a new brand, Raw-Life, which has gingko tea (for thought), elderflower tea (for sneezes) and broccoli tea (for life) at the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market. The goodness-giving blend of sprouted broccoli, raw beetroot and native kawakawa is as pink as rhubarb cordial in the cup, with a pleasant earthy flavour and slightly sulphurous bouquet.
I felt healthier just reading my tea leaves, or at least the writing on the back of the packet: "We lovingly soak organic broccoli seeds for 12 hours, activating enzymes and releasing phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors to be washed away. Germination is where the magic happens: after two to four days, they spring to life, tripling the volumes of phytonutrients and phytochemicals. These precious cancer-inhibiting sprouts are then combined with other nutrient-dense foods to produce this natural detoxifying tea to preserve your health and wellbeing."
Now, I was raised on a farm. I like to think I have a fairly effective built-in bulls... detector. When Pete "Paleo" Evans starts rabbiting on about activated almonds, my eyeballs involuntarily back-flip in their sockets.
There is, however, slightly more science to a cup of broccoli sprout tea. In 2014, public health researchers at John Hopkins University in the United States conducted a clinical trial in China to see whether broccoli tea could help people pee out pollutants such as benzene. It worked. Study participants who drank half a cup of broccoli tea each day excreted carcinogenic benzene 61 per cent faster. That's because broccoli sprouts are rich in the plant compound sulforaphane, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-inhibiting properties.
Sadly, none of these superfood qualities make broccoli taste any better, especially when you're forking out $4 for a scrawny-necked specimen that fits into the palm of your hand. You could grow your own, but broccoli seeds sown now will take a full five months to mature, by which time asparagus and strawberries will be in season and you won't want to eat brassicas.
Chinese broccoli, such as 'Kailaan' (Yates) and 'Gai Lan' (Kings Seeds), is much quicker out of the blocks, producing a flush of crunchy, mild-flavoured stalks in 12 weeks. Similarly speedy is the hybrid 'Tender Stems' (Kings Seeds), which compares favourably to commercially grown broccolini. If you snap off its head while still small – about 4-5cm across – you'll get a supply of side stalks to see you right through until spring.
Or sidestep your garden altogether, sprinkle broccoli seeds into a glass jar and grow your own sprouts on your windowsill or kitchen bench.
Source organic, non-treated seeds (Kings Seeds sell them for sprouting in bulk), and spoon a couple of tablespoons into a large jar, such as an old Agee preserving jar. Half-fill the jar with water and soak for 10 minutes, then drain. Most healthfood stores stock mesh lids for sprouting jars, but a square of cheesecloth and a rubber band does the trick.
Keep the jar in your kitchen, out of direct sunlight, and rinse the seeds twice a day, draining well each time. They'll germinate within 48 hours and be ready to eat after 3-5 days. The more light they get, the greener they'll be.
A single gram of broccoli seed produces 300 tadpole-tailed baby sprouts that, at three days old, are 10-100 times more potent by volume than their garden-grown adult counterparts. Mind you, watercress is said to be even better for you. It's estimated to be 10-100 times more nutrient-dense than broccoli sprouts, except that these days, foraging for wild watercress is probably 10-100 times more likely to give you a toxic dose of waterway contaminants, too.