Having eaten broccoli all my life, in the last year or two I have noticed some differences in most any broccoli, either fresh or frozen. The primary differences I notice:

1) There are many small leaves near the top of the broccoli stalks.

2) Often there are stringy parts of the stalk, even just below the florets. Even when cooked they can't be chewed. Seems to be worse on frozen broccoli.

3) Stalks are waxy looking (kind of shiny).

Also I have noticed that it has become quite difficult to find really fresh broccoli. Usually most of what is available is gray on top and the stalk cutting is turning brown.

For reference I am in the western US (Northwest California). The supermarket I shop at is a large national supermarket chain, so the produce could be coming from anywhere. That is why I am wondering if there is another variety out there, especially on the low end side. I have not checked local health food stores (they tend to be pricey) or farmers markets yet.

Could anyone say what might have changed? With all the news about new varieties, imports and GMO's, I am curious if there is something to this.

  • How many different stores are you looking in? What you describe doesn't really sound like what I've seen in any of the stores I shop at. (I'm in California too.)
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 20:52
  • 1
    Um... not sure. I know that the sale of "broccoli crowns" (without stems) has increased... I don't remember ever seeing them when I was a kid... but I've always remembered having to peel the stems. Specialty grocers may offer "Chinese broccoli" but that's a pretty different plant.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 21:15
  • I've been getting broccoli from the local farmer's market, and I'm 100% sure it's a different variety than what's sold in most stores. The stem is quite pale and the branches come off at 90 degrees then slowly curve upwards, rather than coming off near 30-45 degrees but going straight.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 21:52
  • @Jefromi Safeway supermarket, though being a large chain supermarket the produce could be coming from anywhere. I haven't compared to health food or farmers market produce yet though.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 3:29
  • In Southern California there is broccoli rabe, and people of Italian decent, I believe use it a lot. It's tall, long stems, not too much of the "tree" part" and can, if I remember correctly, be brown on the top and on the stem. Why... well people don't always buy what they don't know so it gets old and sometimes the markets don't keep up getting rid of the old stuff. It has been a bit tuff when I have cooked it, but I may have cooked it too little and it's usually tossed in olive oil. It is usually nice green. The regular broccoli near me is fine and I have also seen a broccoli cabbage combo
    – user33210
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 4:03

1 Answer 1


First, there can be a difference in varieties that are sold in supermarkets. Calabrese, which is a member of the broccoli family, is what is most often sold in grocery stores. The other variety that may be found is 'Italian Green Sprouting'. (Note that I am not referring to other types such as broccoli rabe, broccolini, etc., but just what we think of as 'regular' green broccoli.)

From seedaholic.com :

Calabrese & Broccoli is a confusing series of plants: Supermarkets have helped to confuse the issue of what is broccoli and what is a calabrese by calling both by either name. Most ‘Broccoli’ sold in the supermarkets is actually Calabrese not broccoli.

Broccoli has small heads (mainly purple, sometimes white or green) which mature slowly and can occupy the ground for almost a year. (The word broccoli means 'little sprouts' in Italian). Calabrese are smaller plants that produce larger crowns.

Keep in mind is that broccoli is an over wintered crop but calabrese produces its crop the same year before winter. Sprouting broccoli can be harvested from late winter to late spring. Calabrese can be harvested from mid-summer to mid-autumn. If you grow both calabrese and sprouting broccoli, your kitchen will be kept in broccoli for most of the year.

To add to the confusion, this variety, called "Italian Green Sprouting" is a "heading" broccoli. The name refers to the multitude of sprouts it produces once the main head is harvested.

Next, and what may be an even larger factor, is how it is stored on its way to market or production and in the store. I would suspect that this may well be the source of your issue. From farmtotable.colostate.edu :

Safe Storage and Handling

Broccoli should be stored unwashed, in loose perforated bags in the refrigerator. Broccoli left unrefrigerated will quickly become woody and fibrous. Wet broccoli can become limp and soggy as well as support the growth of microorganisms, so wait to rinse it until just before eating.


Why is my broccoli so tough and chewy?

At room temperature, harvested broccoli will convert its sugar into a fiber called lignin. The more time spent at room temperature, the more lignin is produced and the more fibrous your broccoli becomes! Keep your broccoli refrigerated to extend the shelf life.

  • I checked some photos and I think you are right. Especially the leaves and how the stalks look. I live in a rural area so the length/conditions of storage are probably a factor. Regarding the heads, I thought they should be normally green to blue green on top (based on my recollection over time). But what I usually see here is that the look gray to dark gray, and the individual buds don't seem distinct, like they might be wilting. Is this also a sign of poor/lengthy storage?
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 23:40

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