If you have ever cooked broccoli as part of a recipe before, you’re probably well aware of two things – it can be incredibly tasty, and leave an unwelcome smell in your kitchen. For all the former’s fantastic delicacies, there’s no nice way to put the latter – broccoli can stink up your kitchen and dining room.
Cooking with broccoli is enough to make you lick your lips and wrinkle your nose, and possibly at the same time, which begs the question – can you have the edible element without the odiferous ones?
The short answer to this question is yes – there are a wide variety of approaches you can take to try and cope with and combat the odor that comes from cooking broccoli.
Why Broccoli Smells
Before we can get to the how of the matter, however, we need to tackle why broccoli smells so much when you’re cooking it in the first place. Carrots don’t give off such an odor, and leeks don’t reek, so why is broccoli such a bother?
Well, for one thing, not all vegetables are created equal. Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, while carrots are not. Researchers in Poland believe that these types of vegetables likely contain some amount of sulfurous compounds, which is what’s responsible for the smell. In particular, they release glucosinolates, which are particular to broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, and similar cruciferous vegetables.
On the one hand, these compounds are part of what make these vegetables so healthy and worth eating. A study in 2009 by the National Cancer Institute established a link between consumption of cruciferous vegetables and decreasing the risk of lung cancer. Furthermore, a 2012 study conducted in Italy found that regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables could help lower the risk of breast, kidney, cholesterol, and esophageal cancer.
On the other hand, lovely as those benefits are, they do come with the smelly side effects of a sulfur smell being released when these vegetables are cooked. This smell can be described as anything from rotten eggs to flatulence, but it basically just comes down to the compounds in these vegetables breaking down as a result of the cooking process and being released into the air, thus creating the nose-wrinkling odor we all know and are forced to tolerate.
Or are we?
Is there a way to have our cooked broccoli and eat it too without this overwhelming odor?
Method #1: Avoid Overcooking
The first and most important step you can take in avoiding that nasty cruciferous vegetable smell when cooking your broccoli, cauliflower, or any other similar vegetable is to avoid overcooking it. The more you cook cruciferous vegetables, the more you run the risk of them burning even more organic compounds which can release a sulfuric odor, which in turn increases the overall stench.
Besides which, it is worth noting that these vegetables really don’t need to be cooked that much to begin with. Yes, you might well want to boil or sauté your broccoli, but that doesn’t mean you need to be cooking it constantly for a long period of time. On the contrary, a little goes a long way when it comes to cooking broccoli, and a few minutes at high temperatures should be enough to cook them sufficiently.
What’s more, overcooking cruciferous vegetables can also remove some of its nutrients. Again, the more you cook these veggies, the mushier they get, and the more compounds break down and are released. Not only does this mean having to deal with that sulfuric stink wafting about your kitchen sink, but it also means that you’re basically getting less of a nutritious vegetable for your trouble than if you had simply toned down the cooking time or temperature a bit.
Remember, less is more. It’s often true in art and romance, it’s certainly true when it comes to cruciferous vegetables’ odiferous nature, and it’s also true regarding the proper way to cook them for the most nutritional value.
Method #2: Add Some Bread
There are two basic alternatives left to you in terms of combatting cruciferous vegetables unfortunate odor problem – absorb it or mask it. This is a perfect example of the former.
Let’s say that you’re boiling your broccoli and have filled your pot as usual. Before you consign yourself to the stench that’s about to seep through the room, think for a moment – what is a really good food product for soaking up the flavor and properties of other foodstuffs?
That’s right, bread. It’s lightweight enough that it shouldn’t weigh your pot down and neutral enough that it shouldn’t interfere with the taste of your broccoli. Adding bread to the bottom of the pot can thus absorb odors and help keep the cooking process stink-free.
Method #3: Add Lemon Juice
You might also want to consider adding lemon juice. This also works to try and neutralize the odor as the lemon juice interacts with the broccoli. You don’t want to add so much that you overwhelm the broccoli’s flavor, but adding just enough can mask its odor.
Method #4: Add Vinegar
The same goes for adding vinegar. If you are a fan of home DIY projects, chances are you already know that vinegar is a go-to substance for all manner of stain and odor removal techniques, and the same is true here.
Of course, you need to be careful with adding vinegar for the same reason as lemon juice – too much can ruin the taste. Just a few dashes should do. Take care to taste your broccoli as you go along to make sure you aren’t inadvertently creating a vinegar-and-broccoli-flavored abomination.
Method #5: The Water
Another way to try and mask that broccoli smell is to consider the water in which you are cooking it. After all, if you try to address the broccoli itself without paying heed to the water in which it’s made, you may not need to throw out the broccoli with the bathwater, as it were, but might well want to give thought as to how badly the latter might stink.
Thankfully, masking the sulfur smell in the water is easy and should not interfere with your broccoli’s taste. Simply add some hazelnut, vanilla extract, or other masking agent to the water. There are plenty of choices here, as long as you are sure that the agent in question can cover the smell and will not change the composition of the water in such a way as to interfere with your recipe.
Method #6: Avoid Aluminum and Covered Pots
What’s the fastest way to make a bad odor worse? By trapping it in the same place and letting those fumes build up until they’re ready to blow you away with their pungency when you finally lift the lid.
This is why storing broccoli with aluminum or covered pots is a bad idea from a smell perspective. Doing this will simply trap the odors, making them worse when you finally release them.
Instead, you want to ventilate your broccoli. Try using a steamer basket, which allows the broccoli to do just that as vapors escape through holes while the heat and flavor remain trapped within.
Method #7: Be Proactive
On top of everything else, you want to try and be as proactive as possible in quashing that unfortunate broccoli odor. The longer you wait, the more time it has to build up or seep into the water which, as established above, can both result in your smell problem becoming that much worse. Even before things get that far, however, your broccoli may already be prone to poor odor if you do not store it properly.
That’s why you need to always check your broccoli packaging for leaks or any other sign of damage. Make sure that the seal is tight, and that the package has not been tampered with.
You also need to make sure that the broccoli itself looks fresh. Not only is this essential for the broccoli itself, but it once again has an impact on the pungency of your vegetable of choice. If you have let the broccoli start to go soft and mushy, chances are the smell will be worse, too, as that’s a sure indication that the veggie isn’t at its freshest and thus isn’t fit for consumption.
At the first sign of spoilage, remove the broccoli from your refrigerator immediately and ventilate the area a bit if need be to clear out the smell.
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables can be a highly nutritious part of your diet. They can also be wonderful for adding a kick to any number of fantastic recipes.
That said, these veggies can also give off a nasty sulfuric smell if left unchecked. You don’t want dinner guests to wrinkle their nose at an enticing yet odiferous dish, which is why it is so important to pay heed to these odor-killing measures.
With these tips and tricks, you can eliminate even the most odious “cooked broccoli odor” from your kitchen once and for all.