Scientists put cancer-fighting power back into frozen broccoli

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Posted August 7, 2013


There was bad news, then good news from University of Illinois broccoli researchers this month. In the first study, they learned that frozen broccoli lacks the ability to form sulforaphane, the cancer-fighting phytochemical in fresh broccoli. But a second study demonstrated how the food industry can act to restore the frozen vegetable’s health benefits.


“We discovered a technique that companies can use to make frozen broccoli as nutritious as fresh. That matters because many people choose frozen veggies for their convenience and because they’re less expensive,” said Elizabeth Jeffery, a U of I professor of nutrition.

“Whenever I’ve told people that frozen broccoli may not be as nutritious as fresh broccoli, they look so downcast,” she added.

As little as three to five servings of broccoli a week provides a cancer-protective benefit, but that isn’t true for bags of broccoli that you pluck out of your grocery’s freezer, she noted.

The problem begins when soon-to-be-frozen broccoli is blanched, or heated to high temperatures, to inactivate enzymes that can cause off-colors, tastes, and aromas during the product’s 18-month shelf life, she explained.

The extreme heat destroys the enzyme myrosinase, which is necessary to form sulforaphane, the powerful cancer-preventive compound in broccoli, she said.

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