What’s the Difference between Broccoli, Broccolini, and Broccoli Rabe?

Nicole Bixler
5 min readJun 3, 2021

You know what broccoli is, but what about broccolini or broccoli rabe? Is broccolini a mini version of broccoli? Is broccoli rabe another name for broccolini? We’re here to set it all straight for you. They are, in fact, three different vegetables — and they aren’t even all related.

Origin of Broccoli

Let’s start with good ol’ broccoli. Did you know that broccoli and cabbage come from the same plant? The word broccoli is from Italian, meaning “flowering crest of cabbage.” Think of broccoli buds as a flower growing out of cabbage leaves.

The plant that created both broccoli and cabbage is Brassica Oleracea. It existed several thousand years ago in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor. We now call it wild cabbage or the wild mustard plant.

Over those thousands of years, humans cultivated Brassica Oleracea. They selectively bred it, creating vegetables we eat today like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. All the veggies that do a body good!

The Ancient Romans in Italy were the first to grow and use broccoli. It was later introduced to the American colonies in the eighteenth century.

How Broccoli Grows and What It Looks Like

A head of broccoli
Broccoli

Broccoli seeds grow well in cool and moderate climates. Depending on weather and type, a seed can grow into a plant 24–35 inches tall in about 60–150 days. It has thick leaves and branches and clusters of green flower buds.

When broccoli is ready to be picked and eaten, it should look dark green and its stalks should be firm. If a broccoli plant isn’t harvested in time, the buds produce yellow flowers with petals. At the grocery store, you might sometimes see broccoli starting to produce yellow flowers. Don’t worry, you can still eat it.

What Broccoli Tastes Like

Broccoli has a grassy, earthy, mildly bitter flavor. You could even call it herbaceous.

The entire plant is edible. While some people only eat the florets, you can eat the stalks, too, so don’t let those go to waste. They’re just as tasty as the florets, especially if you slice and roast them.

Broccoli’s Nutritional Value

Broccoli is rich in vitamins, including vitamins A, C, K, and folate. It’s also high in good-for-you dietary fiber

This veggie may also be anti-inflammatory, which can help protect your body against cancer. A study focused on smokers who ate broccoli for ten days showed signs of reduced inflammation.

How to Cook Broccoli

You can eat broccoli raw. But you can also steam it, roast it, stir fry it, or blend it up into a dang good soup. Check out these easy-to-make broccoli recipes.

Roasted Broccoli from Love and Lemons

Garlicky Broccoli Stir Fry from The Woks of Life

Vegan Creamy Broccoli Soup from Simply Vegan

Origin of Broccolini

While broccoli was first cultivated by Ancient Romans, broccolini is a wee baby in the history of vegetables. It’s even sometimes called “baby broccoli,” although that’s more because of its size.

Broccolini is a hybrid vegetable that was invented in 1993. Yes, only thirty years ago. It’s a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli (gai lan).

How Broccolini Grows and What It Looks Like

A woman grinding pepper over a bowl of broccolini
Broccolini

Broccolini prefers to grow in cooler temperatures. Because it’s a newer plant, farmers are still trying to figure out the best time to grow it. Some say it should be planted the first day of spring, but others wait so that frost doesn’t destroy the plant. It takes 60–90 days for it to fully grow.

Broccolini has long slender stems and some small leaves. It also has florets that look similar to broccoli, although they’re much smaller (giving it the “baby broccoli” name).

What Broccolini Tastes Like

Broccolini has a crunchy texture if it’s cooked the right way. It tastes milder and sweeter than broccoli and some say it has a peppery flavor. Although it can be eaten raw, it tastes better if it’s cooked.

Broccolini’s Nutritional Value

It is full of vitamins C, E, and K and is a great dose of dietary fiber. It also contains the cancer-fighters carotenoids and glucosinolates. Go nutrients!

How to Cook Broccolini

Broccolini can be steamed, boiled, sauteed, or roasted. These recipes will make you a member of the Broccolini Appreciation Club:

How to Cook Broccolini 3 Ways from Sweet Peas and Saffron

Easy 10-Minute Broccolini from The Kitchn

15-Minute Garlic Chili Tofu with Sesame Broccolini from Feasting at Home

Origin of Broccoli Rabe

While broccoli rabe may have “broccoli” in its name, it’s not actually a type of broccoli. And it’s not another name for broccolini. Okay, then what is it? It’s actually more closely related to turnips.

Other names for broccoli rabe are rapini and turnip broccoli. It’s thought to have first appeared in China and the Mediterranean region centuries ago. In 1927, Italian immigrants the D’Arrigo brothers brought the seeds from Sicily and began breeding broccoli rabe in the United States.

How Broccoli Rabe Grows and What It Looks Like

A bunch of broccoli rabe on a cutting board with a chef’s knife
Broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe loves cooler climates, and it’s best harvested in the fall. If it’s grown and harvested in warm weather, it has a more bitter taste. It grows quickly, in 30–60 days, and can be planted in a home garden.

Its leaves are big and spiky and its stalks are thin. It does have tiny florets that look a bit like broccoli, and they can bloom small yellow flowers.

What Broccoli Rabe Tastes Like

Broccoli rabe has a fairly bitter taste. You may be thinking, Why the heck would I eat it then? But hear us out. There are ways to truly love it. Just like any bitter green, if you cook it the right way, it’s delicious. The buds that “look like broccoli but aren’t broccoli” have a nutty taste.

Broccoli rabe is used a lot in southern Italian cooking and also in recipes from northwestern Spain.

Broccoli Rabe’s Nutritional Value

This green goddess has as much protein as spinach and is full of vitamins A, C, K, and folate. It even has 10% of your daily value of calcium. If you follow a plant-based diet, you can get your calcium from this vegetable. Pretty cool, huh?

How to Cook Broccoli Rabe

Check out these recipes that tamp down the bitter and make broccoli rabe delish.

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Chili Flakes from Serious Eats

Vegan Sausage Calzones with Ricotta and Broccoli Rabe from The First Mess

Hot Garlicky Broccoli Rabe Sandwich with Smoky Tahini Cheese Sauce from Connoisseurus Veg

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Nicole Bixler

Nicole is a copywriter, content writer, and editor. She is focused on helping plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian brands. Visit www.nicolebixlercreative.com.