Broccolini®, also known as baby broccoli, is a popular new Brassica crop on the market. It is a hybrid of broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis) and gai lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) also known as Chinese broccoli, Chinese kale, or kailaan. This broccoli-gai lan hybrid has long tender stalks, small florets, and a subtle sweet flavor with a peppery kick. You will find it in supermarkets nationwide, and it is becoming increasingly popular with chefs who appreciate its more ‘refined’ taste as compared with its relatives, broccoli and broccoli raab. Due to its growing popularity, many growers have become interested in adding it as one of their crops.
The broccoli-gai lan hybrid was first developed in 1993 by Sakata Seed Company in Yokohama, Japan. Sakata refers to the hybrid cultivar as ‘Aspabroc’ and owns the genetics on the ‘Aspabroc’ hybrid worldwide. In 1994, Sanbon Incorporated partnered with Sakata Seed Company to begin growing ‘Aspabroc’ commercially in Mexico under the name Asparation® suggesting the asparagus flavor undertones. Asparation® was first available in the U.S. markets in 1996. In 1998, Mann Packing Company partnered with Sakata to begin marketing ‘Aspabroc’ throughout the United States under the name Broccolini®. Sales topped $5.5 million in 2007, and Mann Packing celebrated Broccolini®’s 10th birthday in its November 2008 newsletter.
Growing and harvesting Broccolini® has proved moderately challenging. First of all, as a new hybrid, there was limited knowledge on Broccolini® growth requirements. Unlike broccoli, the side shoots rather than the main stalk are harvested. The main stalk is removed as the plant begins to mature to enhance side shoot development. While broccoli is harvested three times during a season, Broccolini® may be harvested 3–5 times depending on growing conditions. Both removing the main stalk and harvesting the side shoots is much more labor intensive than broccoli production. The hybrid is also intolerant of temperature extremes and more sensitive to cold temperatures than broccoli. Mann Packing and SanBon Inc. grow their Broccolini® and Asparation® crops throughout California in the summer and Arizona in the winter, allowing them to supply the market year-round.
Sakata Seed Corporation maintains exclusivity with Mann Packing, SanBon, and the Australian-based Perfection Fresh. Sakata continues a very active breeding program on the ‘Aspabroc’ hybrid. They sell seed to these three companies and other fresh market companies in different countries throughout the world but do not provide seed to independent growers.
Different seed companies have begun broccoli-gai lan hybrid breeding programs. For example, Synergene Seed & Technology, Inc. of Salinas, California has been breeding a broccoli-gai lan hybrid under the name ‘sweet baby broccoli’. Although their hybrid seed comes from cross-pollination of the same parent varieties as Broccolini®, it is not the product of the inbred hybrid parents specifically developed by the Sakata Seed Corporation. Therefore, the Synergene hybrid is genetically different from Sakata’s ‘Aspabroc’ hybrid. As long as the Synergene hybrid is not sold or marketed under the names Broccolini® or Asparation®, independent growers are free to grow and sell the broccoli-gai lan hybrid.
Synonyms: Broccolini®, baby broccoli, sweet baby broccoli.
Seed Sources: Osborne Seed Company