I steam my broccoli until it's 'al dente' and some buds turn brown. I've done a small search, but haven't found anything.

Broccoli with brown buds

I'm thinking maybe the steam is too hot or I'm steaming too long. What do you think?

  • 2
    it's from oxidation
    – Brendan
    Apr 6, 2013 at 15:42
  • 4
    Consider blanching rather than steaming. You can blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds to about 2 minutes, depending on desired tenderness, then ice water shock it to set the color. The color usually even survives reheating. Steaming always takes longer and almost always results in a pale or undesirable color; blanching allows the color to stay vibrant green.
    – JasonTrue
    Apr 6, 2013 at 17:24
  • @JasonTrue, next time I think I'll try blanching. Apr 6, 2013 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


further to SAJ14SAJ's answer, what happens is the Magnesium atom in the bright green Chlorophyll is lost in acidic conditions and you end up with Pheophytin which is Olive Green.

There are other reactions at play mediated by the enzyme Chlorophyllase which can be active even in frozen storage.

The main reason for blanching (hot water part) is to stop this enzyme's activity. The ice bath is to stop the cooking process and the magnesium loss.

This short presentation from Purdue University explains this along with the molecular structure if you're interested.

The presentation states that green vegetables are blanched to end enzyme activity, to preserve the natural green colour.


Per the transcript of Alton Brown's Good Eat's episode If It Ain't Broccoli, Don't Fix It:

Inside broccoli, nice, bright green chlorophylls are kept separate from acidic elements by cell walls. But if you overcook the broccoli, the cell walls can collapse, and the acids can attack, turning our nice, bright green chlorophylls into a sad, dingy gray.

This would let other pigments reveal themselves, turning making the appearance of your broccoli yellowish or brownish. Your picture shows that the individual florets seem to be most effected, which are the smallest and easiest parts to cook on the broccoli.

So it may simply be an issue of overcooking the little florets.

Later in the transcript, Brown recommends a hybrid method of cooking, giving different treatment to the stalks and florets to minimize this effect.

According to The Happy Scientist, raising the pH with baking soda will prevent the enzymes from effecting the chlorophyll, but this would be difficult to apply when steaming, and of course it also would have the unfortunate side effect of turning the broccoli mushy.

Personally, I prefer to roast broccoli rather than steam it. It is a little slower, but can be very effective, and of course, a different type of browning is somewhat expected :-)

  • I've also seen this when the broccoli had sprouted. The florets have bits of yellow, and it really looks ugly when cooked.
    – GdD
    Apr 6, 2013 at 18:12
  • @SAJ14SAJ in your answer the statement 'lowering the pH with baking soda' is incorrect. Bakingsoda is Alkaline and has a pH of >7 (9~10), by adding baking soda to an Acidic solution (pH less than 7), you'd be raising the pH.
    – MandoMando
    Apr 6, 2013 at 18:25
  • @MandoMando Must have been a brain moment... thanks for catching it.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Apr 6, 2013 at 18:28

well the brown is from oxidation(just about anything can be oxidized) by the exposure to water.

Yellow on the other hand is most likely from the broccoli starting to have blossoms in the florets that eventually produce seeds.

  • Hm, the other two answers say it's not oxidation, but rather other reactions with the chlorophyll. And if it turns yellow or yellow-brown when cooking (as in the picture), that's definitely not from blossoms - they'd have been there before. (And even if it's yellow before cooking, it likely is just the chlorophyll going; you'll see leafy greens turn yellow too, and they're obviously not flowering.)
    – Cascabel
    Jul 1, 2014 at 18:52
  • but browning of food is likely caused by oxidation(I know this from apples turning brown as I eat them and how that is caused by oxidation and potatoes do it for the same reason) As far as the yellow for greens it is the same reason we get yellow leaves in the fall. However for broccoli not only is that a possibility but blossoming is also a possibility.
    – Caters
    Jul 1, 2014 at 18:56
  • 1
    Yes, that type of browning is due to oxidation. But this isn't the same thing - it's what MandoMando described in detail. And yes, like I said, yellow before cooking is likely from chlorophyll loss (which is why leaves yellow in the fall as well). And also like I said, blossoming is a possibility but you'd notice it before cooking, not just after. (And it's also way less common than chlorophyll loss in storebought broccoli, and if you look closely is obviously different - the yellow flowers are distinct from the green parts.)
    – Cascabel
    Jul 1, 2014 at 19:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.