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Watching Broccoli (sung to the tune of "Chopping Broccoli"...look it up**)

Broccoli is a cold-hardy vegetable that can generally withstand temperatures as low as 26 F. But how does it do it?

Lucky for us, it does it in ways that translate to terrific health benefits for us!

When the cells of broccoli are exposed to cold, they release a chemical called sinigrin. Sinigrin then breaks down into two other chemicals, allyl isothiocyanate and glucose. Allyl isothiocyanate is what gives broccoli its characteristic pungent smell. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect loving cells from damage. Synthetically it’s used as a bactericide, nematocide, and in fire alarms for Tue deaf (stinky odors)!

It’s also been shown on early animal studies to have cancer chemopreventive properties.

The glucose produced by the sinigrin reaction helps to prevent the cells from freezing. When water freezes, it forms ice crystals that can damage cell membranes. The glucose molecules in broccoli bind to the water molecules, preventing them from forming ice crystals.

Broccoli also has a high amount of calcium, which can help strengthen cell walls against freeze; and fatty acids in the cuticles of leaves to insulate and prevent moisture in surrounding air from freezing in damaging ways on the leaf tissue surface.

Most veggies in this family (The Brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens AND other Cruciferous: radish, horseradish, wasabi…) have these and other adaptations that make them cold tolerant AND extra nutritious for us in cold weather!

Cruciferous plants, such as cabbage, rapeseed, horseradish or mustard, have a special defense strategy against herbivores called the "mustard oil bomb".* They store glucosinolates as defensive substances that react with myrosinase enzymes when an animal bites into the tissue (herbivory), e.g. we eat raw broccoli, cabbage, radish, cauliflower, etc.

Some potential health benefits of mustard oil include:

  • Digestion

  • Mustard oil can help the liver and spleen produce more digestive enzymes, which can speed up digestion. It can also help with stomach ailments like indigestion, inflammation, and gas.

  • Skin

  • Mustard oil can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, remove tan, and treat chapped lips. It can also help with skin infections.

  • Oral health

  • Mustard oil can help strengthen gums and remove plaque. It can also help with dental issues like gingivitis and periodontitis.

  • Heart health

  • Mustard oil is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can reduce LDL levels. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can help ease joint pain and stiffness.

  • Blood circulation

  • Massaging affected joints with warm mustard oil can improve blood circulation.

So eat some broccoli this winter and have fun thinking about all these fun facts! Nerd out and share them, and your broccoli, with someone you love!

Until next nerdy time,


*Not to be confused with the chemical weapon "mustard gas," the man-made sulfur mustard (as well as nitrogen mustard, and Lewisite) that cause extreme blistering to human tissue. This stuff was called "mustard" just because sometimes it has an odor that smells like mustard.

**In case you are too lazy to look it up, I'll do it for you:

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