It should come as no surprise that broccoli dishes tend to look and taste better when the broccoli is at peak freshness and definitely when it hasn't gone bad. Knowing how to identify spoiled broccoli is a useful skill but so is knowing how to select this cruciferous veggie at its best and how to store it to keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
When Good Broccoli Goes Bad
That broccoli looked fresh and crisp and delicious when you bought it, but now that you're getting around to eating it, you're noticing some changes. It raises some questions: Is it salvageable? Is it time to toss it?
When broccoli begins its decline, the first things you'll probably notice are that it suddenly has a slight smell that wasn't there before (which gets worse as its breakdown continues), the tips of some florets are starting to yellow and, if there are any, the attached leaves are starting to wilt. Early on, the broccoli is still fine to use, but cook it rather than eat it raw at this point.
Indications that broccoli is far enough past its prime that you should throw it out include:
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- Widespread yellowing on top of the florets
- Brown broccoli (on the tops of the florets and/or the stems and stalk)
- Limp stems or stalk and withered leaves
- A strong, unpleasant odor
- Mold growth (which may present as white, grayish or black spots on broccoli, fuzzy stuff or other broccoli discoloration)
Choose the Best Broccoli for the Best Broccoli Dishes
Don't blindly buy the first broccoli bunch or bag you see. There's more to selecting fresh, high-quality broccoli than just avoiding any with visible damage or obvious signs that it's gone bad (though that's certainly a good start). Picking out the freshest veggies means the most flavor bang for your buck and also the most time before it starts to turn.
Whether you're buying a bunch or a bag of precut broccoli, take a close look at the florets. They should have a deep green to bluish-green or purplish-green color with no yellowing or browning. Broccoli still on the stalk should have tightly packed florets; they shouldn't be separating or sagging. The stems and stalks should have a pale green color, be firm and have healthy-looking leaves that aren't wilting, dried out or browning.
Storing Broccoli to Maximize Its Life Span
Most fresh produce isn't known for its lengthy shelf life. Precut fresh broccoli florets (whether you buy them that way or you cut up a bunch in advance) usually only last a couple of days. It's preferable not to cut a bunch up ahead of time, but if you do, store the pieces in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Don't open a bag of precut florets until you're going to use them.
Intact stalks typically last more like five to seven days in the fridge. Keep them in an unsealed plastic produce bag in the veggie drawer. Wrapping them loosely in damp paper towels helps maintain freshness, but it's important that the bag is open enough to allow air circulation to prevent mold growth.
If you have leftover cooked broccoli, it should be fine for up to two days in an airtight container in the fridge.
Freezing Broccoli You Can't Eat in Time
If you can't get through fresh broccoli in an appropriate amount of time, you don't have to part ways forever. Blanching and freezing lets you store it indefinitely, though it's best to eat it within six to eight months for optimum quality.
To blanch broccoli, cut it into individual florets, boil it for four to five minutes in lightly salted water and then immediately drain it and submerge it completely in ice water. Parboiling deactivates certain enzymes, which in turn prevents the broccoli from becoming weirdly textured and flavored over time in the freezer.
Dry the broccoli thoroughly and then vacuum seal it if you can. Otherwise, package it in a container or freezer bag, pressing out any air as well as you can. Air exposure causes frozen food to get freezer burned. You can package cooked broccoli the same way (without blanching) and freeze it too. Try to use it within three to four months.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.