Researchers Preserve Cancer-Fighting Properties In Frozen Broccoli

Researchers have found a simple way to preserve broccoli’s cancer-fighting properties after freezing

Broccoli is one of those foods we’re told to eat as youngsters because it’s good for us. If you want the full health benefits of broccoli, bypass the freezer aisle, as new research suggests that the frozen variety lacks the cancer-fighting properties the vegetable is known for. Researchers have found a simple way to preserve broccoli’s cancer-fighting properties after freezing.

Before broccoli is frozen and packaged, it is standard industry practice to first heat the vegetable to 86° C (187° F) in a process known as blanching to inactivate enzymes that can affect its color, taste and smell over its 18-month shelf life. But Elizabeth Jeffery, a U of I professor of nutrition, and her team found that this process also destroys the enzyme myrosinase which, when brought into contact with glucoraphanin when raw broccoli is chopped or chewed, forms broccoli’s cancer-preventive compound, sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is formed when fresh broccoli is chopped or chewed, a process that puts glucoraphanin and myrosinase into contact with one another

“We know this important enzyme is gone because in our first study we tested three commercially frozen broccoli samples before and after cooking,” says Edward B. Dosz, a graduate student in Jeffery’s laboratory. “There was very little potential to form sulforaphane before the frozen broccoli was cooked and essentially none after it was cooked as recommended.”

After conducting a series of experiments, however, scientists from the University of Illinois noted that blanching the vegetables at a slightly lower temperature than the current industry standard could help preserve most (82 percent) of the enzyme myrosinase without compromising food safety and quality. Instead of 86° C (187° F) scientists recommend heating the broccoli at 76° C (169° F).

But not all is lost when it comes to frozen broccoli. The cancer-fighting compound can be unlocked in both its frozen and cooked state when paired with other foods that contain myrosinase.

For example, team frozen broccoli with raw radishes, cabbage, arugula, watercress, horseradish, spicy mustard or wasabi to give the bioactive compounds a kickstart, scientists say.

Pairing frozen or cooked broccoli with mustard, cabbage, or radishes will super-boost its health benefits

As little as three to five servings of broccoli a week has been shown to have a cancer-protective benefit.

“That means that companies can [heat] and freeze broccoli, sprinkle it with a minute amount of radish, and sell a product that has the cancer-fighting component that it lacked before,” says Dosz. “We were delighted to find that the radish enzyme was heat stable enough to preserve broccoli’s health benefits even when it was cooked for 10 minutes at 120° F (49° C). So you can cook frozen broccoli in the microwave and it will retain its cancer-fighting capabilities.”

So although the researchers hope food processors will adopt the lower temperature process, Jeffery says that until they do, consumers can help boost frozen broccoli’s health benefits by sprinkling it with a related cruciferous vegetable, such as raw radishes, cabbage, arugula, watercress, horseradish, spicy mustard, or wasabi, before cooking. I’m sure the kids will love it.

The team’s studies, which were funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), are published in the Journal of Functional Foods and the Journal of Food Science.

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Write by: RC - Wednesday, August 7, 2013

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