What is Romanesco? Is It Healthy? And Why Must You Chew It Well

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I’m a sucker for a strange food – if I walk into a supermarket and see something new I develop an overwhelming desire to purchase it. This is why, one of these thingys below ended up in my fridge this week.

roamnesco cauliflower on a wood background

It’s called a Romanesco and basically, it’s the Lady Gaga of the brassica family – all spiky and avant-garde.

What is Romanesco?

It’s a vegetable and a member of the brassica family to which cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts also belong.  And while it’s often called Romanesco cauliflower or Romanesco broccoli, it’s technically not come from either those things.

I admit I bought it solely for its looks. I’m not the only one to be sucked in by those. You should read the Wikipedia entry on this thing….I quote

Romanesco broccoli resembles a cauliflower, but is of a light green colour and the inflorescence (the bud) has an approximate self-similar character, with the branched meristems making a logarithmic spiral. In this sense the broccoli’s shape approximates a natural fractal; each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral. This self-similar pattern continues at several smaller levels. The vegetable is rich in vitamin Cvitamin Kdietary fiber and carotenoids.

Well, I understood the last bit anyway – it’s good for vitamins. But, what else should you know about it? Time to answer all your romanesco questions…

What Does Romanesco Taste Like?

Let’s face it, you want to be eating it (rather than pontificating about its meristems). When I bought it the lady in the shop told me it tastes like a more creamy cauliflower.

The shopkeeper’s description was pretty accurate – but it’s also a bit nuttier than normal cauliflower – in fact, it’s a bit like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli.

Apparently, it’s particularly raw because it’s not quite as pungent as normal cauliflower – I didn’t get the chance to try this because The Boyfriend had merrily chopped the thing and covered it in cheese sauce before I could blink.

Is Romanesco Healthy?

Heck yes!

As well as the vitamins mentioned above, romanesco contains vitamin A, calcium and iron. But on top of this, all members of the brassica family are a must eat as they contain high levels of cancer-fighting chemicals so the more of them you can get in your diet the better.

Now, I admit, saying anything is cancer-fighting sounds far fetched – after all, we don’t have a medical cure so how can something you eat do it?

But the science really is there for brassicas.

For example, compounds called isothiocyanates have been shown to cause damaged cells to self destruct in lab trials.  And of the different types of brassicas they studied, romanesco was in the top three for this activity.

How Many Calories Are in Romanesco?

100g of the raw vegetables contains 33 calories. You’ll also find 6g of carbs in 100g of Romanesco. 3.3g of that is fibre.

How to Cook Romanesco

You can use Romanesco in the same ways as you do cauliflower and broccoli – but as it’s selling point is the shape of the florets, it’s better to try and keep them, or the whole thing, whole if you can.

However, if you’re looking for Romanesco health benefits, cooking style matters. It’s been shown that boiling causes brassicas to lose some of those unique ingredients that make them particularly healthy so, that’s another reason to look at alternative cooking methods.

Steaming and stir-frying don’t cause the same loss of nutrients – try cutting the romanesco into small pieces and stir-frying it with lemon and garlic. Or, a mix of soy, ginger and a little sweet chilli sauce.

And of course, you can eat it raw which keeps everything intact. Because it’s not as strong tasting as normal cauliflower it works better as a crudite than normal cauliflower florets. If you’re looking for a yummy dip to try with it, check out this recipe for Sundried Tomato Dip from the Hemsley sisters.

If you really want to power up the health benefits you might also want to add a dab of mustard, or mustard powder to the mix – it helps you absorb sulforaphane, one of the healthy ingredients in romanesco.

Why You Need to Chew it Well

Most of us eat too fast and don’t chew food effectively – but, when it comes to Romanesco and the other brassicas, it’s even more important to chew them than normal as, chewing, breaks up the fibres in the plant and actually helps release the isothiocyanates.

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