Broccoli florets are delicious and nutritious, but the stems are often overlooked — or even thrown away. Before you do, know this: that scrumptious stem can be used in many tasty ways.
Not only does cooking with broccoli stems help reduce waste in the kitchen, but cooking it also allows you to get the most out of what you purchased from the grocery store. Broccoli is also somewhat difficult to grow, so using the broccoli stem is a great way to make sure you get the most for your effort if you are growing your own vegetables.
“You pay for broccoli by weight, so if you bought [the stems] you might as well use them,” said said Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. “If you’re growing broccoli, broccoli is a precious plant with a 110 day maturity time. You want to get as much bang for your buck and time as you can.”
Dumas said that broccoli stems taste much like the florets — which are actually the immature flower bud of the broccoli — with a mild vegetal sweetness and slight grassiness.
“Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as cabbages and kale and kohlrabi,” Dumas said. “All of them have edible stems. You could very easily make some delicious food with the broccoli stems.”
Broccoli stems do have a crunchier, denser texture than the florets, though, which should be kept in mind when cooking them.
“They’re going to take longer to cook than the broccoli florets,” said Mary Margaret Ripley, co-owner of Ripley Farm in Dover-Foxcroft. “If you cut it in too big of a piece, it won’t cook at the same rate as the other parts of the broccoli. Making sure you cut it down enough that it will cook at a similar rate to the rest of the stuff that you have. You could also steam it with your broccoli, [but] throw it in at the beginning before the broccoli florets.”
Depending on where you get your broccoli, the stems might also need some additional prep before using them in the kitchen.
“If you’ve got really nice fresh broccoli, the stems will be very tender all the way to their edges,” Dumas said. “If you buy broccoli at the grocery store, and maybe it’s grown in California or Mexico somewhere far flung, then stems dry out [and become] tougher and woodier. Sometimes you need to peel the broccoli stems. You can just use a vegetable peeler [to] peel that tough fibrous outer peel [to get to the] crunchy, juicy, interior stem.”
How to use broccoli stems in the kitchen
Once they are peeled, broccoli stems are a versatile ingredient for a number of recipes.
Dumas said that one of his favorite ways to use broccoli stems is in a slaw by shredding the stems with a box grater or food processor, adding a tangy dressing and other tasty elements like pepitas and dried cranberries.
“Another option is to take it and take that nice tender stem and cut it into little batons or julienne or coins and you can sautee those just like you would a piece of summer squash,” Dumas said. “You can have little cubes of broccoli that you season with butter and fresh herbs and a little bit of lemon. It’s a really lovely vegetable side.”
In the vein of side dishes, you can also roast broccoli stems alongside other vegetables on a sheet pan.
“That would probably be a good place to start if they weren’t wanting to try it raw,” Ripley said. “Chop it into comparable sized strips or rectangular pieces and put it with the rest of stuff that you’re roasting.”
Ripley said that when she is using broccoli florets for a stir fry, she chops up the stems and tosses them in as well (a little earlier than the florets, though, so they have time to get tender). She said another option is to slice raw broccoli stems to eat as crudites.
“You can also make little sticks out of them once you peel it and use it with a dip which is a fun way to do it,” Ripley said.
Stephanie Enjaian, culinary arts department chair at Kennebec Valley Community College, said that broccoli stems are great to save if you are planning to make vegetable stock out of kitchen scraps.
“An excellent vegetable stock is a chef’s secret to adding flavor to vegetarian meals,” Enjaian said. “I’ve seen all sorts of awesome ideas like making broccoli rice in a food processor or spiralizing it.”
They can also be used directly in soups — particularly broccoli cheddar soup.
“Start with butter and onions, sweat those onions, add flour, stir it until it comes up to a simmer, add in all those broccoli stems and let them simmer in that soup base before pureeing it,” Dumas said. “All those broccoli stems add a lot of really nice body and texture.”
If you are feeling experimental, Dumas suggested fermenting broccoli stems.
“You could definitely make a broccoli stem kraut as well. That’s a totally novel new thing with broccoli stems.”
If you are storing several broccoli stems for a particular recipe, make sure you are doing so correctly so that they don’t dry out. Put the stems in a damp paper towel, loose or perforated plastic bag — don’t seal it air tight, let it breathe.
“Keeping it in a Ziplock bag can make it break down faster and leaving it without any wrapping can cause it to lose too much moisture,” Enjaian said.
Then, put the stems in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
“Your refrigerator has a fan in it,” Dumas said. “If you leave any vegetable out in the regular part of your refrigerator it will dry out pretty quickly.”
If they are properly stored, though, Dumas said that broccoli stems will last a long time. Older stems might need peeling, but they are still usable after a week or two in the refrigerator.
“You’ll be surprised how long they’ll last in there,” Dumas said.