A Guide to Every Type of Broccoli, From Broccoli Rabe to Broccolini—Plus, How to Use Each One

Get to know some of our favorite green cruciferous vegetables.

A bright green powerhouse of a cruciferous vegetable, broccoli is something we’re all familiar with. We steam it, roast it, use it in stir fries, and maybe even eat it raw—the ways to incorporate broccoli into meals are endless. What some of us might be less familiar with is that the broccoli family extends way beyond just, well, broccoli. So if you already love the green florets, it might be time to get to know some other varieties, too. We asked experts for the lowdown on broccoli and four of its most widely available and delicious relations—as well as ideas for how to use them in your cooking. 

The Broccoli Family

The five types of broccoli outlined here come from the same botanical family, Brassicaceae Oleracea. The wider Brassicaceae family also includes other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Broccoli is an Italian word that stems from the Latin word brachium, meaning “arm” or “branch,” which is pretty much what the stems and florets of different broccoli look like, says G.R. Dixon, the author of Vegetable Brassicas and Related Crucifers.

Broccoli (of all sorts) is an excellent source of vitamins and fiber, and is a very antioxidant-rich vegetable, according to Kate Lovy, registered dietitian at the Melrose Center in Minnesota. But it isn't for everyone—some actually find broccoli overtly bitter, especially when raw. According to Lovy, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables "get their bitter taste from a sulfur-containing compound glucosinolate," she says. "Cooking helps to decrease this compound and therefore decrease bitter flavor.”

broccoli in wood bowl on table

Helen Camacaro / GETTY IMAGES


Traditional broccoli doesn’t need much of an introduction. Brassica Oleracea v. Italica is a popular, versatile dark green cruciferous vegetable with short, thick stems and a full head of florets. Although there are long dark green leaves on the plant, they're often removed before the broccoli makes it to grocery shelves.

How to Use Broccoli

As you most likely already know, broccoli is easy to prepare and use. Simply trim off the tough stem ends and cut the heads into smaller florets. We tend to focus on the florets, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the tender stalks; you can use them for salad or slaw. Eat broccoli florets raw dipped in hummus, make Steamed Broccoli to serve alongside salmon—or just about about any main dish—or try our delicious Potato, Broccoli, and Cheddar Soup.

broccoli rabe


Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe is also known as rapini, derived from the species name Brassica rapa, says Amanda Hawkins, Misfits Market’s food expert and savings strategist. It makes regular appearances in Italian cooking. "Broccoli rabe has a very strong flavor and is much more bitter in comparison to other broccolis and cruciferous vegetables. It has a long stalk and can be tough and chewy in texture," says Lovy. She typically sautés broccoli rabe and serves it with a meat entrée. 

Broccoli vs. Broccoli Rabe

Although broccoli and broccoli rabe are Brassica cousins, broccoli rabe's closest relative is actually the turnip, a relationship that is evident when you compare their similar long, dark green leaves. 

How to Use Broccoli Rabe

Trim off the stem ends of broccoli rabe before using; then, cut the vegetable into pieces to suit your cooking method or recipe. Broccoli rabe is popular in pasta, with sausage, and as a side; try our Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with pinenuts and lemon zest.  

chinese broccoli


Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

Gai lan or Chinese broccoli (Brassica Oleracea v. alboglabra) is recognized by its thick stalks, broad, flat leaves, and sparse floret clusters. Its flavor is similar to regular broccoli: "Its vegetal and slightly sweet, with leaves that are actually less bitter than your common broccoli leaves," says Hawkins.

Lovy likes gai lan for its taste and its texture, which is a cross between broccoli stems and asparagus she says. Gai lan is sold in some grocery stores, but the best place to find it is at Asian markets. 

How to Use Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

Remove the tough stem ends, then cut the stems in half lengthwise if desired. Remove any leaves that seem too thick, wilted, or discolored before using. Gai lan can be stir fried, blanched, braised or steamed. It pairs well with garlicky sauces. Try it in our recipe for Rice Noodles With Chinese Broccoli and Shiitake Mushrooms.

steam broccolini on blue blate
Claudia Totir / Getty Images


A relatively new vegetable that appeared at the end of the 1990s, Broccolini® is a registered trademark. It's a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese broccoli with long, bright green stems and florets at the top. It's similar to gai lan, but has fewer leaves and the florets are slightly larger. The flavor is slightly more mellow, with a hint of sweetness and earthiness; some people think it tastes more like asparagus with just a hint of broccoli.

Broccolini is also called baby broccoli, tender stem broccoli, or mini broccoli.

How to Use Broccolini

Like all broccolis, Broccolini should be trimmed to remove the stem ends. Split stems in half if they run large. Although you can eat broccolini raw, it's much better when cooked. Try it sautéed, steamed, grilled, broiled, or roasted. If you need a quick and easy recipe, our Broccolini with Peperoncini is always a hit at the dinner table. 

purple sprouting broccoli


Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli sticks out in the produce section because of its bright purple florets. At first glance, though, you might think it's a type of kale, says Laurie McKenzie from the Organic Seed Alliance—and for good reason. The mature leaves can be harvested and eaten like kale. Purple sprouting broccoli, however, tastes like a sweeter version of broccoli. Because of its flavor and slender appearance, purple sprouting broccoli used to be called asparagus broccoli, says Mackenzie.

How to Use Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Wash and trim off the tough stem ends. You can sauté and cook the leaves just like you would kale; you could do the same with the stems and florets. You can also roast them or sauté with garlic and red pepper flakes.

When cooked, the purple color fades and the vegetable looks much more like broccoli or broccolini.

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