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What is Chinese Broccoli?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chinese broccoli is a dark green leafy vegetable in the Brassica oleracea group, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. The plant goes by a number of aliases, many of them variations on gai lan, the Chinese name for the vegetable, such as gai lon, kat na, jie lan, and kai lan. The vegetable produces characteristic florets of flowers, much like broccoli, and the copious foliage of the plant is used as well. Asian markets often carry Chinese broccoli, and it is also relatively easy to grow at home.

All of the members of the Brassica oleracea group are technically the same species, but they have been bred for different traits. Some of them are cultivated for leafy green foliage, while others produce tightly furled heads of leaves, and others grow into large clustered florets. In all cases, the plants tend to have a peppery bite with a hint of sweetness, and they are used in a wide range of dishes all over the world. Chinese broccoli tends to be slightly more sweet than regular broccoli, with the hint of a bite in the aftertaste of the vegetable.

In China, gai lan is used in stir fries, steamed in dumplings, and eaten fresh in green salads. The faint bitterness of the vegetable complements a wide range of flavors, especially in green or herb salads. It can also be used outside of Chinese cuisine, in much the same way that any other plants in the species would be. Like other dark leafy greens, Chinese broccoli has very high nutritional values, making it a great addition to most diets.

When seeking out Chinese broccoli in the store, look for crisp specimens without any sign of wilting, and no soft spots or marked discolorations. The vegetable can be stored under refrigeration for up to three days, loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable drawer. Always wash it before using, to remove dirt or compost which may have adhered to the leaves.

The vegetable grows best in temperate climates with cool summers and mild winters. In some regions, Chinese broccoli can be grown year round, while in others the plant will only produce in the summer. In all cases, it likes well fertilized soil with good drainage, and prefers to be kept moist and cool. Usually Chinese broccoli matures within 60 days of planting, and it should be eaten younger rather than older, since it can get bitter and woody. Some garden supplies sell seeds of several cultivars, many of which are custom-bred for specific climates.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By truman12 — On Jun 03, 2012

Chinese beef and broccoli is probably my all time favorite comfort food. Whenever I am feeling stressed or blue about something I will go to my favorite take out place and get a big order of beef and broccoli with a tub of white rice and some crab rangoons. Just thinking abut it is making my mouth water.

By tigers88 — On Jun 02, 2012

I got some Chinese broccoli seeds from a friend and I tried growing it last summer. It went pretty well at first but I waited too long to harvest and eventually the broccoli bolted. It was basically inedible at that point which was a big disappointment.

I have never grown broccoli myself but I have eaten it fresh out of the garden and it tastes better than any broccoli you have ever had. The flavor is so deep and green tasting. It's delicious.

By chivebasil — On Jun 02, 2012

Isn't most broccoli that you find in stores considered Chinese broccoli? I have made a number of Asian recipes over my life and most of them just call for broccoli. So I always assumed that what we used here was what they used over there. Have I been wrong this whole time? If so, where do you find Chinese broccoli?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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