Is Broccoli Man Made or Natural? (Solved + Surprising)

If you’re wondering, “is broccoli man made?”, the answer is yes, broccoli is man-made. But don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean the vegetable originated in a laboratory.

In fact, broccoli isn’t even a recent invention. Read on to learn how ancient farmers used selective breeding to produce broccoli. 

A Quick Guide to Selective Breeding 

Selective breeding, also known as artificial selection, is a process of cultivating plants. 

Growers propagate plants with favorable traits to produce a better version of the original plant. Favorable characteristics might include hardiness, size, flavor, or resistance to pests and disease. 

To propagate plants, growers harvest seeds from favorable plants. But they might also duplicate plants by grafting, cutting, layering, and other methods. 

Selective breeding of plants is not a recent invention. Hunter-gatherers began this cultivation practice roughly 10,000 years ago. 

A mere 8,000 years later, farmers began breeding broccoli from the wild cabbage plant: Brassica oleracea. 

As the wild cabbage grew, gardeners were able to select premium buds. They would use these new buds to replace the less desirable originals, gradually cultivating bigger and tastier plants. 

Undomesticated wild cabbage is a biennial, meaning it flowers every other year. Artificial selection does not change the time it takes for a plant to grow. So using selective breeding to produce a new plant species is a long process. 

The Beginning of Broccoli

broccoli growing and ready to harvest

Historians believe that the ancient Etruscans first cultivated wild cabbage over 2000 years ago. Farming in the Italian region now known as Tuscany, the Etruscans bred the earliest species of broccoli as well as other cruciferous vegetables. 

In slightly more recent history, 18th-century Italian farmers continued growing broccoli in this region. But these farmers expanded broccoli’s territory, shipping the vegetable to England, America, and eventually the rest of the world.

When broccoli arrived in England in the mid-18th century, people called it Italian asparagus

In America, broccoli appeared at Monticello in the early 1800s. Along with broccoli, Thomas Jefferson also grew its fellow cultivar, cauliflower. 

Despite Jefferson’s early introduction of broccoli on American soil, broccoli didn’t experience stateside popularity right away. The surge of this superfood occurred in the early 1920s when it arrived in the luggage of Italian immigrants. 

Today, the broccoli crown wears the crown, reigning as America’s favorite vegetable – according to a recent Green Giant survey. 

But broccoli isn’t the only vegetable that emerged from the Mediterranean wild cabbage. Cauliflower, kale, collard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi all stemmed (literally) from Brassica oleracea

And it keeps on growing. Broccolini, also known as tender stem broccoli, is a cross-breed of broccoli and gai lan. Romanesco is another broccoli hybrid that dates back to the 16th century. 

Broccoli Health Benefits

Broccoli is a man-made vegetable. So is broccoli a GMO? 

Scientists create genetically modified organisms by altering a plant’s DNA. Although designed with good intentions, GMOs can negatively impact environmental and human health. 

Broccoli is not a GMO. Scientists did not create it in a laboratory. Humans helped with matchmaking, but nature did all the growing and changing. No genome engineering occurred to develop this vegetable. 

So steam it, saute it, or eat it raw. Broccoli is nutrient-dense and flavorful. It provides an excellent source of antioxidants, proteins, and fiber. Not to mention an abundance of vitamins and minerals.

References + Resources

Breeding Field Vegetables; usaid.gov – PDF

Domestication, diversity and use of Brassica oleraceaL., based on ancient Greek and Latin texts; springer.com – Link