How to cook cabbage, kale and broccoli

Find out which vegetables are in the brassica family, how to cook brassicas – and explore our evidence on how vegetables can help prevent cancer.

Children growing pak choi

Which vegetables are brassicas?

Brassicas are a group of plants that belong to the Brassicaceae family, also known as the mustard family. They include well-known vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. They also include rocket, radishes, horseradish and mustard greens – a leafy vegetable used in Indian cuisine and sometimes known as saag.

These plants are usually strong in flavour and have several nutritional benefits. They’re rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. They’re also abundant in compounds called glucosinolates, which are particularly good for us. It’s these compounds that give brassicas their pungent flavour. For a healthy diet, it’s best to eat a variety of different vegetables (and fruit) in your diet, including brassicas.

Brassicas are cultivated around the world. They are typically cool-season crops and are often grown in the autumn, winter and early spring in temperate regions – perfect for the UK weather!

Cabbage, kale and other brassicas growing

Why are brassicas good for you?

These types of veg are considered healthy for several reasons:

  • Nutrient-dense: brassicas are rich in vitamins C and K, folate and calcium. They also contain antioxidants – compounds that protect our cells from damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory: brassicas contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
  • May reduce cancer risk: while it’s our overall diet and lifestyle that has the biggest impact on reducing our cancer risk, some studies have suggested that compounds in brassicas may help protect against certain types of cancer. The best advice is to focus on eating more, different-coloured vegetables (and fruit) every day.
  • Digestive health: brassicas are a good source of fibre, which can keep your digestive system happy with regular bowel movements, and help to prevent constipation. Eating fibre-rich foods can also help to reduce your bowel cancer risk.

Why are brassicas cheap?

Brassicas are often affordable compared with other vegetables:

  • Easy to grow: brassicas generally grow well and can be cultivated in a variety of climates. This means they can be grown locally, reducing transportation costs and making them more readily available.
  • Abundant yield: a single crop can produce a large amount of food. This reduces production costs and can help keep prices low.
  • Long shelf life: many brassicas can be stored for several days or even weeks without spoiling. This reduces waste and allows retailers to sell them at lower prices.

Why do brassicas have a long growing season?

Cabbage growing in the snowBrassicas are a cool-season crop, meaning they grow best in lower temperatures, and have a longer growing season than warm-season crops. Their long growing season is due to several factors:

  • Slow growth: brassicas take longer to mature than other crops. This is partly because they prefer cooler temperatures and do not grow well in hot weather.
  • Multiple harvests: several brassicas, including broccoli and kale, can produce multiple harvests throughout the growing season.
  • Overwintering: some brassicas, such as kale, can be overwintered in cold climates and will continue to grow throughout the winter months. The growing season for these crops can be extended well beyond the typical season for other crops.
  • Planting time: brassicas are often planted in the autumn, allowing them to grow and mature during the cooler months and extending their growing season.

How can I cook brassicas without boiling them?

CauliflowerCertain brassicas, such as broccoli and cauliflower, have been given a bad reputation because people overboil them – making them mushy and flavourless.

However, brassicas are incredibly versatile vegetables and full of flavour when cooked properly. They can be used in a variety of dishes: raw, steamed, roasted, braised or stir-fried. This versatility means that they can be added into different meals and cuisines, making them a staple in many households.

  • Raw: add raw radishes, cauliflower florets or rocket to your meals – by not cooking them, they keep more of their nutritional value. Why not add to a salad for extra flavour and help you hit your 5 A DAY?
  • Stir-fry: our turkey stir-fry with broccoli and pak choi is quick for when you’re short on time.
  • Steam: this is much healthier than boiling as vegetables keep more of their nutritional value. You can add steamed veg to almost any meal.
  • Roast: cut brassicas into chunks, spray with a little oil and pop them into the oven. Cooking time and heat depend on which brassicas you are cooking. Try our citrus fish with roasted vegetables, which uses tenderstem broccoli.
  • Braise: this type of cooking means you brown the vegetables in a pan then add cooking liquid. Try our colourful braised red cabbage.

> Read more about the healthiest cooking methods

How to encourage children to eat brassicas

Pak choi on child's headGet children involved in growing them! Start with radishes or rocket as they are easy to grow.

Try cooking them in a variety of ways to introduce children to new textures. Our cauliflower cheese monsters are tasty and children can help you prepare them.

What about making crisps out of brassicas, from crispy kale and crunchy broccoli to turnip slices? All these will help children towards their 5 A DAY while inspiring them to enjoy brassicas.

An air fryer is a great way to crisp up brassicas. You only need to coat them in a little oil and pop them in the air fryer for a few minutes. If they aren’t crisp enough, just pop back in for a couple of extra minutes – watch carefully, as they can easily burn.

Do vegetables prevent cancer?

Pak choiBrassicas are a nutritious addition to any diet, and incorporating a variety of these vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet can help support overall health.

To reduce the risk of cancer, we recommend that people eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, pulses like beans and lentils, and wholegrains, like brown rice and wholemeal bread.

Our evidence shows that this pattern of eating reduces the risk of several cancers. So next time you go shopping, think of all those brassicas you can choose from and try cooking something a little different.