Have you ever noticed that broccoli does not absorb water when rinsing it? That is because it is highly hydrophobic, meaning water will not stick or penetrate it. Unfortunately, this leads to chemicals, pesticides, dirt, germs, and harmful bacteria not getting washed off. So how do you do it?
There are a few methods to clean fresh and frozen broccoli, such as soaking/blanching it in water with white vinegar and compounds like baking soda or salt. Cutting the florets off the stem will help further by allowing water to flow around all the vegetable areas.
Each cleaning method requires specific steps to ensure that you receive the best results and all bacteria, pesticides, and dirt is well removed. Choosing which way to wash your broccoli will depend on your desired outcome and the time you’re willing to use.
Methods of Cleaning and Washing Broccoli
The Boiling Water Rinse
This method is the closest to rinsing off your veggies in the sink under running water. It is the practice you can use if you are running late to cook dinner, have unexpected guests or you’re too tired and want to get it done as fast as possible.
How to do it
- Boil about 1 – 1.5 liters of water
- Hold the broccoli by the stem over the sink or shatter-proof dish
- Slowly pour the hot water over the broccoli, careful not to burn your hands or splatter yourself.
- Turn the broccoli head as you are pouring to ensure the water gets in to all the crevices of the florets.
- If you were using a dish, dip the head into the water for a few more seconds wiggling around.
- Chop the florets of the stem, rinse the stem and save it for soups and broth.
- Put into a colander and rinse the florets off with cool water.
- Drain on a clean tea towel or paper towel, and it is ready to use for cooking.
The above method is easy, saves you time, and the hot water gets the broccoli to moderately absorb the water making sure it’s getting washed. However, this does not guarantee that the vegetable will be 100% disinfected and germ-free because no disinfectant compounds are used.
The Salt and Vinegar Water Blanch
The blanching approach is excellent if you’re going to boil your broccoli, need it to cook quickly, or if you are going to blend it or hide it in certain food dishes and don’t mind if it loses a bit of color.
How to do it
- Bring approximately 1 liter of water to simmer on your stovetop, or boil water in a kettle.
- Cut the florets off the stem and set them aside until the water is ready.
- When the water is mildly simmering, add about half a teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of vinegar and give it a slight stir to combine.
- If you are using the kettle, pour the boiled water into a shatter-proof dish and then add the salt and vinegar, giving it a slight stir to combine.
- Add the broccoli florets into the water and let it soak for about 2-3 minutes, mixing 2-3 times, so all the pieces get well coated with water.
- Remove the broccoli from the hot water with a strainer spoon or pour it out through a colander in the sink.
- Place the florets into some cold water immediately after, or rinse under running water with cold water.
- Drain it, dry it on a clean tea towel, and it is ready for cooking.
The above technique thoroughly removes pesticides, chemical coatings, and dirt because vinegar acts as a disinfectant, and the saltwater solution helps remove most contact pesticide residue on vegetables.
The cons of this method may lead to your broccoli being overcooked from softening in hot water, and it may also lose some of the lush green color. If you want to use it in a salad and retain its crunch, use another approach, or blanch it for a shorter time.
The Cold Water and Vinegar Soak
The vinegar in water soak is an effective method if there is no time factor or anything else holding you back. It is ideal when doing meal prep and organizing your refrigerator after a grocery pick-up.
How to do it
- Fill a bowl with cold water about three-quarter way.
- Add about a quarter cup of white vinegar to the water.
- Place the broccoli head in the water submerging the florets’ side.
- If you prefer to cut up the broccoli first, cut the florets off the stem and add the pieces into the water and vinegar solution.
- Soak for 10-15 minutes, wiggling and turning it around every few minutes if it isn’t fully submerged at once.
- Drain the water out through a colander and rinse the broccoli well with more cold water.
- Dry on a clean paper towel or tea towel, and it is ready to be cooked or stored.
This practice of cleaning broccoli is excellent for disinfecting the vegetable from chemicals and acids sprayed on it. It also kills any insecticides that might be present. Vinegar is a mixture that acts as a disinfectant for many purposes, and being a food ingredient; it is 100% safe to use.
The cons of the vinegar water approach are that it takes a little longer because of the soaking time. The vinegar smell might put you off initially if you tend to be sensitive to it, but it won’t be more than a few seconds and doesn’t linger on the broccoli at all.
The Salt and Baking Soda Solution
Similar to the previous one, this method is an excellent approach when meal prepping, before packing away new groceries, and to store for later use. It requires that extra few minutes, so it should be done when you are not crunching for time.
How to do it
- Fill up a dish with cold water,
- Add about 1 teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda).
- Add approximately 2-3 tablespoons of table salt.
- Mix with to dissolve and combine.
- Add either the florets part of the broccoli head or the cut-up florets into the water solution.
- Let it soak for about 10-15 minutes
- Stir occasionally to ensure water is penetrating the broccoli and anything nasty automatically releases into the water.
- Drain the water through a colander.
- Dry on a clean tea towel and, it is ready to use or be stored.
This is the ideal approach, especially when buying organic broccoli because they tend to have worms, pesticides, and a lot of soil. Salt and bicarb are compounds that act as disinfectants and kill most bacteria and pesticides on fresh produce. The soaking weakens the chemical compounds and coatings on the broccoli allowing all unwanted dirt to come off.
The cons are that it requires a little extra time because more components go into it, and soaking it requires crucial time.
The Fresh Lemon Water Solution
This is another water solution method that can be used to prepare and store broccoli for later use. It takes little effort and time but needs time to submerge, so only use this method if you don’t mind waiting or have something to do while waiting for it to soak.
How to do it
- If you don’t want to soak the entire head of broccoli, cut off the florets and keep them aside.
- Fill up a dish with some cold water.
- Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the water and stir. (bottled lemon juice can work, but it won’t be as powerful).
- Add the broccoli to the lemon water solution and make sure the florets are fully submerged. If not, occasionally stir to make sure it all gets soaked fairly.
- Soak for 10-15 minutes and then drain through a colander.
- Dry on a clean tea towel, and it is ready to be cooked or stored.
The lemon water solution is similar to the vinegar solution but ideal for someone who prefers lemon and may not have or want to use the vinegar. Lemon is acidic and acts as a multipurpose disinfectant. Because it is a fruit and cooking ingredient, it is 100% safe to use.
The cons of this method are that many people might not have fresh lemon, which is preferred for best results. It does also require time to soak.
Prepping Broccoli for Washing
There are some simple, necessary steps to take that are a part of cleaning your broccoli before washing it. It is beneficial to do this because it creates efficiency when washing and allows the vegetable to be cleaned more effectively. It speeds up the process of cooking if done immediately after a grocery pick-up, before storing.
Additionally, it’s always great knowing that you are eating thoroughly cleaned produce without chemicals, bacteria, and pesticides.
Follow the steps below before washing your broccoli:
- If your broccoli comes wrapped in plastic wrap, make sure you entirely remove it, and there are no small pieces stuck in the crevices of the broccoli florets.
- Pluck out all the leaves attached to the stem; you can use the stem for specific recipes, so you want to make sure it is also cleaned well.
- If there are any damaged parts, brown/rotten spots on your broccoli head, either pull or cut those parts off first.
- Even though the broccoli is hydrophobic, you want to rinse it off with cold running water to ensure any heavy dirt, soil, or larger pesticides fall off before disinfecting the broccoli more thoroughly.
- While rinsing it with cold water, use your hands or a vegetable brush with gentle bristles to rub the dirt off the broccoli. Be careful not to cause the florets to all fall off.
Taking these steps before soaking and washing your broccoli will help get it extra clean instead of absorbing it in the water while it still has a bunch of loose dirt and soil on it. In that case, you will end up soaking it in all that dirt, and you will have to spend more time rinsing or doing a double soak.
Keeping your Broccoli Clean when Storing
If you are someone who only cleans your broccoli right before cooking, you don’t have to worry about storing it after to prevent germs and bacteria. However, this tip will extend the life of your tree-shaped vegetable, so you might want to consider cleaning and prepping before you pack in your fridge if you have that little extra time on your hands.
Green vegetables, in specific, can get rotten extremely fast; this is because of the bacteria and germs that feed off them in the fridge. The humid, bacterial air causes mold, which leads to faster rotting. Keeping your broccoli clean is vital in extending its life.
What can you do?
- After the entire process of prepping, cleaning, and washing your broccoli, make sure it is dried well (let it drip dry on a clean paper towel or tea towel after shaking off as much water as possible).
- Once your broccoli is all dry, get a good size of foil (depending on how large your broccoli head is, the foil could be about the size of a medium oven baking tray), and lay it down on a flat surface.
- Put your broccoli head (or pieces) in the middle of the foil, and close it up from all sides, making sure there are no air spaces.
- Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- If you want to freeze it, place the foil-wrapped broccoli in a freezer Ziplock plastic baggie, and then put it in the fridge.
This process will prevent germs, bacteria, and possible fruit flies from contaminating your vegetable, keeping it clean and fresh. When you want to use it, you don’t have to go through the soak-wash process again, and you can cook it immediately.
Washing Processed Frozen Broccoli
Should Frozen Broccoli be Washed?
Most commercially processed and frozen vegetables are already cut and cleaned, and washing is not entirely necessary. At the same time, you can never be utterly sure about what approaches are used to wash and disinfect the vegetables before freezing. Additionally, you don’t undoubtedly know if it is contaminated in the packaging process.
It is therefore recommended to take extra precaution and wash it anyway.
If you have prepped and washed broccoli at home by yourself and then froze it, it would not be necessary to rewash it, but if you froze it without washing, it would be essential to wash it before using.
How to Wash Frozen Broccoli
The most effective way to wash your store-bought frozen broccoli is by placing it in cold vinegar water and soaking it for 5-10 minutes. If you want to take it a step further to kill any pesticides, it might still contain – you can add a teaspoon of salt to the water as well before soaking the broccoli.
Most frozen vegetables can be cooked as per packaging – “straight from frozen.” That means if you wash your frozen broccoli, it will be thawed, and the crunch will be gone. If you prefer to have crunchier textured broccoli in your dishes or add it to a salad, the best option would be to buy it fresh.
The method you use to clean and wash your broccoli will depend entirely on the pantry items you have available, such as vinegar or baking soda. It will also depend on the amount of time you are willing to put in and if you’re going to store the broccoli or cook it immediately afterward.
Remember that it’s not only fresh broccoli that you have to wash because commercially frozen vegetables can also contain pesticides, and contamination remains. The approaches you use in cleaning your broccoli will also determine what goes into your body. Clean food equals fewer illnesses.
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effectiveness of Washing Procedures in Reducing Salmonella enterica and Listeria monocytogenes on a Raw Leafy Green Vegetable (Eruca vesicaria)
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Citrus limon (Lemon) Phenomenon—A Review of the Chemistry, Pharmacological Properties, Applications in the Modern Pharmaceutical, Food, and Cosmetics Industries, and Biotechnological Studies