Did you know that there are many different types of broccoli? You probably see veggies at your local grocery store or farmer’s market that look vaguely like broccoli but are leafier, skinnier, bright green, blue-green, or even look like fractals. Such variation in size and appearance also means variable growing times, leading to months of broccoli bliss.
All of these broccoli varieties and broccoli hybrids are part of the Brassica oleracea species, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and others. If you’re as wild about cruciferous vegetables as I am, read on about the different types of broccoli and their unique qualities.
The mountain of broccoli that you see at the grocery store is usually a variety of Calabrese broccoli, or typical broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica ). These types of broccoli are named after Calabria, a region in southern Italy (think the toe and ankle of the Italy boot).
Calabrese broccoli forms a large central head with tight florets, aka tiny flowers. These thick, flowering stems give typical broccoli its signature look; they look like tiny trees! If you’re interested in growing this well-known variety, it grows well in zones 3-10 and is particularly cold hardy. Most Calabrese varieties continue to produce mini-tree side shoots once you have harvested the central head, so look forward to a long harvest window.
Di Cicco Broccoli
Di Cicco broccoli takes 48 days to maturity. This organic, heirloom variety grows 24-36 inch plants with 3-4 inch bluish heads. Harvest at this point to encourage side shoots that grow through summer. Use the seeds for sprouting and enjoy them on your sandwiches and salads. This is a great freezer variety that you can enjoy the entire year, too!
Belstar takes 66 days to maturity. It’s a hybrid, compact plant with 16-20 inch plants that grow 6-8 inch, blue-green heads. Once central heads are removed, continue to harvest side shoots. This variety is great for those who want to pack in more broccoli in their garden.
Waltham 29 takes 65-75 days to maturity. As an open-pollinated plant that grows well in Zones 3-9, you can expect harvests even in colder seasons. Waltham is known for high productivity and lots of side shoots after the main head is harvested. Its more compact plants grow up to 24 inches.
Blue Wind Broccoli
The Blue Wind variety takes 60 days to maturity. Blue Wind is another hybrid type, but it’s also an extra early variety that produces plants with unique light blue-green leaves and dense blue-green heads. Harvest side shoots of Blue Wind all season long, and you’ll have a drawn out harvest of tightly beaded broccoli heads. Blue Wind is also wonderful for those with mild winters.
You’ll have to wait 60-90 days to maturity for this open-pollinated heirloom. Tall, 30-36 inch plants with 5 inch dark blue-green central heads give you massive harvests. Plentiful side shoots extend through multiple seasons, too.
With 89 days to maturity, you can harvest these hybrid, dwarf plants. Each one is 12-18 inches, and produces rounded heads that are heat tolerant. This broccoli variety doesn’t produce side shoots, so it’s great for a gardener who wants a one-and-done variety.
Sprouting broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) is a tall, leafy, stalky plant with individual florets instead of a central head. Slightly more bitter than typical types of broccoli, the leaves, stalks, and florets are all edible. When searching for varieties online, you will bump into information about broccoli sprouts, which are germinated broccoli seeds grown for a few days and then added to salads and sandwiches. Sprouts are delicious but are very different from sprouting broccoli.
Sprouting broccoli is commonly planted in fall and overwintered for an early spring harvest. 6 to 8 weeks of cold temperatures (at or below 50°F/10°C ) are needed to produce florets. Overwintering might seem like a daunting commitment, but early spring harvests are so welcome after a long winter!
The main types of sprouting broccoli are purple and white. Although a vivid purple when raw, purple sprouting broccoli turns green when cooked. White sprouting broccoli has white florets and a milder, sweeter taste than the purple variety. White sprouting broccoli is more common in Britain but its popularity is increasing in the U.S.
Burgundy takes roughly 37 days to maturity. Its purple florets and purplish-green stems grow on stalks with fewer leaves than other broccoli varieties. If you want a hybrid cruciferous veggie that adds a splash of purplish-red to your fall and winter garden, this is the one for you.
With a long growth period, Santee takes 80-115 days to maturity. Its hybrid green stems have lovely purple florets. Plant in either early spring for a fall harvest or as a winter crop in mild areas.
Red Fire Broccoli
Red Fire takes 140 days to maturity. Its hybrid, bright purple florets are ideal for overwintering but will die in temperatures below 20°F/-7°C. Therefore, plant it in late summer in colder regions, and keep winter plantings to areas with mild winters. The open growth pattern of this broccoli makes it easy to harvest the luscious 6-8 inch florets.
White Sprouting Broccoli
220 days to maturity is what you should expect from this open-pollinated white sprouting variety. While it may produce fewer florets than purple broccoli varieties, it’s certainly a highly striking sight to see in the garden, with golden white florets. It’s a cold hardy variety, too, withstanding temperatures down to 10 degrees F/-12 degrees C.
At 220 days to maturity, this hybrid white sprouting variety from Britain is excellent for overwintering. Slender light green stalks display small white florets. It may produce fewer florets than purple broccoli varieties, but it’s disease-resistance means you’ll get a good harvest regardless.
As its name implies, Chinese broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) originated in China. These types of broccoli are known by many other names like Chinese kale, gai lan, kailaan, and others. Chinese broccoli has very thick stems and large green leaves. It’s known to taste bitter, but soaking it in cold water before cooking reduces that quality.
Its relatively short growing time, between 35 and 50 days, makes it a great vegetable for planting in spring or summer for fall harvest, or year-round in moderate climates. Stir fry gai lan with garlic, add your favorite spicy sauce, and enjoy a kick of Vitamins C, K, A, folic acid and fiber!
At 35-50 days to maturity, you’ll have plenty to glean from this generous hybrid. Its’ a new early variety with tender, super thick stems. If your bolts, don’t worry! You can enjoy the delicious flavors of the stalks, crowns, and flowers alike.
Enjoy harvests from this variety in 45 days. Thick, glossy leaves and as the name suggests, crispy stalks. Vigorous plants continually produce when blue-green heads are harvested one by one. If you like collards, this is the broccoli for you, as its flavor is akin to a cross between collards and broccoli.
Harvests of the hybrid, Blue Wonder are ready in 45-50 days. It grows blue-green heads with tender and crispy stalks. As a slow to bolt variety, Blue Wonder grows well in most climates. Add it to your fall, winter, or even early spring harvest list!
Ryokuho AKA Green Jade
45-50 days is all you need to harvest the hybrid Green Jade. This early Chinese variety has 16 inch stems and smooth leaves. This one is a great choice for disease resistance and robust growth. With such a short growth period, this one is a great choice for plenty of gardeners all over!
Suiho AKA Noble Jade or Emerald Green Broccoli
This hybrid with short, thick stems is ready for picking in 50-55 days. Its stems grow about 14 inches tall, and can be planted in late spring for a summer harvest or mid-summer for a fall crop. With that in mind, this is a variety that you can expect heat tolerance from.
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)
Broccoli rabe (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) has some familiar features of broccoli but it’s actually part of the same subspecies as turnips. Also known as rapini, the green leaves of these types of broccoli are used in cooking much like turnip greens. Its small, spiky, broccoli-ish florets aren’t the focus. Rather, rapini’s slightly bitter leaves are featured in southern Italian cuisine.
Rabe grows extremely fast. Paired with its cut-and-come-again growth, you will have an all-you-can-eat buffet of tasty greens from the beginning to the end of the season.
Spigariello Liscia Broccoli
With 21-45 days to maturity, this open-pollinated variety is excellent for those with short seasons. The stalks have a flavor between broccoli and kale. Harvest single leaves for cut-and-come-again growth throughout the season. This one also packs in more leaves and fewer buds than other broccoli varieties.
This is another short growing rabe, with just 25-30 days to maturity. Plentiful, slightly peppery leaves grow quickly, as this is one of the earliest rapini varieties. You should expect adaptable plants that grow to about 12 inches tall and do well any time of the year.
Sessantina Grossa Broccoli
As a slower-growing rabe, you’ll need 35 days for full maturity. Leafy blue-green leaves surround stalks with larger florets than other varieties. This is another flexible plant with hardiness ranging from Zones 4-10.
Even more slow-maturing is Novatina, which is ready in 40-45 days. Small, loosely-clustered buds are encircled by tender leaves. Novatina prefers cooler temperatures but will grow any time of the year in mild climates. Plants are fairly compact, reaching 18-20 inches tall.
This is the slowest growing of the rapini types on this list, with a growth period of 50-55 days. Large, succulent leaves and tender stems are what you can expect from Maceratese. This variety prefers cooler temperatures, and should be grown in fall to winter in milder climates.
Broccolini vs broccoli rabe or baby broccoli vs Broccolini — what are the differences between these types of broccoli?
While rabe is a subspecies of turnip, Broccolini (Brassica oleracea var. italica × alboglabra) is a broccoli hybrid – a cross between typical broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It is sometimes called baby broccoli, but this is only in reference to the more delicate size of its stems and florets.
It has a super interesting history, which includes development over several years with hand-pollination instead of genetic engineering. The name “Broccolini” even has a trademark.
A perfect combination of its parents, broccolini has long, slim stalks with small, broccoli-like florets on top. Broccolini is also known as tender stem broccoli or poor man’s asparagus. It looks a lot like broccoli rabe but tastes less bitter.
You’ll be able to consume the tender stems of your basic broccolini in 25-30 days. This hybrid lets you harvest often for continual growth of tasty side shoots. As a quick grower, you can enjoy multiple harvests of broccolini over a couple of seasons.
33 days is all you need for the hybrid Atlantis. This plant grows deep green stems and florets with high yield and good flavor. Frequent harvesting encourages additional floret growth, meaning you can have multiple harvests year-round.
With a slower growth rate than others, you’ll harvest hybrid Aspabroc in 50 days. Mild and peppery flavor is what these broccolini plants have to offer. Plant in spring or early summer for a relatively quick harvest. Cut any central crown that forms to encourage additional side growth.
Aspabroc Baby Broccoli
With 50-80 days to maturity, you get a smaller version of the hybrid Aspabroc. Its sweet and peppery flavor mellows with cooking, and the plants grow to 8 to 10 inches. You can push some soil up the side of the main stem to encourage side shoots when the plants grow to a ew inches tall.
Romanesco broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. Botrytis ) is a stunning bright green broccoli cousin that naturally resembles a fractal. It’s almost too beautiful to eat! These types of broccoli look like a cross between cauliflower in texture and broccoli in color, so it’s no wonder it’s also known as Roman cauliflower.
Between its beauty and mild flavor, Romanesco is an excellent choice for home gardens in zones 3-10. If you want to grow something unique and a great dinner conversation starter, Romanesco is for you.
For the math fans out there, the number of spirals on each head of Romanesco broccoli is a Fibonacci number! To read more about Fibonacci numbers in Romanesco and in nature, check out this article.
In 76 days, this hybrid produces 1 pound, lime green heads. With Orbit, you’ll get an earlier harvest than other varieties. It’s uniform heads are perfect for braising, roasting, or charring.
Puntoverde AKA 26-70 Romanesco
You can expect to harvest hybrid Puntoverde in 78 days. This variety grows best in areas without extreme heat. 26-70 can overwinter in mild gardening zones, but it will bolt in hot weather. Therefore, in most areas this will be a fall, winter, or early spring crop.
98 days is the growth period for the hybrid Veronica. Lime green with spiral peaks, this romanesco is a fine dining star. It has a nuttier flavor than white cauliflower varieties, and taller peaks. Veronica produces heads up to 5 pounds, too!
If you feel daunted by the season-long investment needed to grow Calabrese type broccoli, this article is full of delicious alternatives. And now that you know how to spot different types of broccoli, you’ll start seeing them everywhere!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the best broccoli to eat?
A: I’m partial to the tender stalks of broccoli rabe or broccolini. However, you may find that one of the more common broccoli types, or even a gorgeous romanesco is more your preference.
Q: What type of broccoli is sold in stores?
A: The most common types of broccoli are Calabrese broccoli types. If that’s the kind you’re into, look for a variety that is a Calabrese variety.
Q: What is the fancy broccoli called?
A: When I think of broccoli, fancy is definitely a word that comes to mind! More specifically, one of the fanciest used in fine dining is romanesco.
Q: What is the healthiest version of broccoli?
A: Broccolini has a few more nutrients than your typical Calabrese. Go for this type if you want to add some phosphorus, manganese and calcium to your diet!
Q: Why not to eat broccoli everyday?
A: While it’s not technically bad for you to eat broccoli every day, you can experience bloating and gastrointestinal distress from doing so. So eat your broccoli, but not too much!
Q: What is Chinese broccoli called in America?
A: Chinese broccoli has common names of gai lan, kai-lan, and Chinese kale.
Q: What is baby broccoli called?
A: It’s not technically an immature broccoli, but broccolini is a hybrid of Chinese broccoli and Calabrese that resembles baby broccoli.
Q: Why is broccolini so expensive?
A: It’s considered a rarer variety of broccoli, and is often used in fine dining. Therefore, broccolini tends to run at a higher price point. Grow some at home to save money!