Bitter Broccoli: Causes and Solutions

Why Is My Broccoli Bitter?

Do you love broccoli?

Maybe you do, but even if you’re eating it a couple of times a week, you’ve got nothing on Tom “Broccoli” Landers. The current world record holder, he scarfed down an entire pound of the cruciferous vegetable in a scant ninety-two seconds!


All right, so most of us will never be interested in getting in the Guinness Book of World Records, but we still like to keep healthy choices in our diets.

And what could be healthier than broccoli?

When it’s picked at the right time, it’s a delicious, nutritious addition to any meal, but sometimes things don’t turn out quite right. The mild, earthy flavor you’re used to is gone – in its place, a bitter taste.


There’s a bit of nuance to the answer.

Some bitterness is to be expected in broccoli and other common types of brassica such as kale, bok choy and cabbage. The reason for this has to do with how humans sense bitterness in foods, but more on that later.

Otherwise, excessive bitterness in broccoli results from it being too ripe when harvested or purchased or when overcooked. Ideally, broccoli heads should be deep green. Buds on the heads should be compact, tight and firm, not yellow or even worse, flowering or bolting. In terms of cooking, broccoli is best when it’s fork tender and keeping its fresh picked coloration. You’ll know you’ve overdone it when the green color’s faded and the veggie is limp, soggy, and well, just plain sad.

Storing Properly to Prevent Bitterness

For fresh, store-bought broccoli, plan on it lasting for about a week in the fridge, preferably in a vegetable crisper drawer if you have one. Any longer than that, you’ll risk losing flavor and to a lesser degree, some of the nutritional value.

You can also freeze fresh broccoli, but it’s a good idea to blanch it beforehand. Doing so will preserve the texture of the vegetable and prevent it from turning mushy when used later.

Type of broccoli Storage method Notes
Fresh, store-bought Refrigeration In vegetable crisper drawer for best results
Fresh Freezing Blanch before freezing to preserve texture and prevent mushiness

How to Fix Bitter Broccoli

The tried-and-true method to fix bitter broccoli is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Once you’ve already cooked your food, it’s almost impossible to get rid of the bitterness short of adding some sauces like soy sauce, butter or parmesan cheese.

Otherwise, reducing the amount of bitterness is most often achieved by blanching it. To blanch broccoli, you’ll need a pot of boiling salt water large enough to accommodate the florets you’ll be using. Blanching is effective because it removes the acids responsible for causing the bitterness in broccoli.

Problem Solution
Bitter Broccoli Prevent it by blanching in boiling salt water before cooking
Bitter Broccoli after cooking Add sauces like soy sauce, butter, or parmesan cheese to mask bitterness

What Is Bolting In Broccoli?

Simply, this is the point at which flowers are produced. Bolting is how the plant reproduces and the rate at which it occurs is largely a factor of heat in the soil. Temperatures of 80 degrees or higher can lead to broccoli bolting.

Can I Eat Bolted Broccoli?

You can, but you probably won’t want to because it will be very bitter and not contain nearly the nutritional benefits of broccoli that’s been perfectly picked.

Sometimes It’s You, Not the Broccoli!

For some people, no amount of cooking techniques or when the vegetable was harvested will make a difference in the taste. For them, broccoli is almost unpalatable, but why?

It all comes down to genetics. Specifically, the human gene responsible for giving us the ability to taste bitterness in broccoli (also known as glucosinolate compounds), TAS2R38.

In recent decades, researchers have discovered populations of people with a variation of the gene known as hTAS2R38. People in this group were classified as “sensitive” to glucosinolate much more likely to rate foods like broccoli with 60% more bitterness than those without it.

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