Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable – which is just a fancy word that means it's in the cabbage family – and like most produce, it's fairly perishable. To avoid unpleasant dining experiences, and possible pathogens as well, it's helpful if you can identify rotting broccoli. And if you're into avoiding waste, it's also good to know when things may seem a little off but the broccoli is still OK to use. Maximize broccoli's shelf life by selecting the freshest heads and storing them properly.
How to Tell When Broccoli Is Bad
A fresh, properly stored, intact head of broccoli typically stays good for up to about a week. Of course, its freshness at the time of purchase can mean a shorter or slightly longer life span. And, as a side note, seeing white in the broccoli stem is normal, not a sign that anything's amiss.
The initial sign that it's starting to go bad is usually a noticeable odor that intensifies gradually. Other early indications that broccoli is heading downhill are when its green or bluish-green crown starts turning yellow and when the leaves attached to the stem begin to wither. You don't need to throw the broccoli away when symptoms are this mild; just skip eating it raw and use it promptly in a cooked form.
Once the yellow coloring becomes prominent or evolves into more of a brown color, discard the broccoli. Also, if the broccoli stalk or stems are getting soft or limp, or if you see mold, get rid of it.
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How to Store Broccoli
Broccoli fares much better in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator than left out at room temperature. Don't pre-cut florets or wash the head before use, as this curtails the broccoli's shelf life.
While moisture is often the enemy of fresh produce, a little bit of it actually helps broccoli hold up a bit longer – provided there's some air circulation. Wrap the head in a damp paper towel or two and store it in an open plastic produce bag.
If you cut up the broccoli in advance or if you buy a bag of pre-cut florets, it usually lasts around two or three days in the refrigerator. You can hang onto cooked broccoli for a day or two in an airtight container in the fridge.
How to Freeze Broccoli
You can freeze fresh broccoli for extended storage. But, as is usually the case with raw produce, it's best to blanch it first to stop certain enzymatic processes. Otherwise, the broccoli is likely to be mushy when you thaw it out, and it'll probably taste and smell kind of funny.
Blanch broccoli by cutting it into individual florets, boiling them for 5 minutes, then immediately draining and submerging them in an ice bath to keep them from cooking any further. The broccoli develops a vibrant green color but remains crisp. Dry it off completely before freezing it.
You can store broccoli in the freezer forever, but its quality starts to go noticeably south after about six to eight months; definitely use it within one year. To prevent freezer burn, seal it in an airtight freezer bag or container with as much air pressed out as possible. If you have a vacuum sealer, use it for the best results.
How to Select the Best Broccoli
By buying the freshest broccoli, you buy yourself as much time as possible before it goes bad. And picking the right heads also means peak crispness and flavor.
Look for heads with tightly compacted, dark green to bluish-green clusters of florets. Avoid heads with spread-out or separating clusters, yellowing, dried-out or wilted leaves, or any signs of flowering or mold. Also, pass up any heads that give off a detectable odor. The thick broccoli stalk and smaller stems should all be firm and free of cuts or other damage.
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.