Spicing up broccoli with horseradish or wasabi can enhance the vegetable’s cancer-fighting properties, according to researchers.
Scientists say overcooking broccoli instead of lightly steaming it affects its cancer-fighting properties, but these can be revived by adding horseradish or the spicy Japanese equivalent, both of which contain the enzyme myrosinase.
Professor Elizabeth Jeffery, a nutritionist at Illinois University, said spicing up broccoli increased absorption in the upper part of the digestion system, boosting its impact.
She said: ‘Spice up your broccoli with mustard, horseradish or wasabi. The spicier, the better.’
In the study, when fresh broccoli sprouts were eaten with broccoli powder, the scientists measured bioactive compounds in the blood 30 minutes later.
When these peaked at three hours, they were much higher when the foods were eaten together than when eaten alone.
Broccoli powder does not contain myrosinase, but it does contain the precursor to the anti-cancer agent sulforaphane.
But when eaten together, the sprouts were able to lend their myrosinase to the powder.
Both foods produced sulforaphane and provided greater anti-cancer benefit, Professor Jeffery said.
Other foods that will boost broccoli’s benefits include radishes, cabbage and watercress.
Urine samples corroborated the blood results, according to Jenna Cramer, lead author of the study published in the British Journal of Nutrition .
'However, this study shows that even if broccoli is overcooked, you can still boost its benefits by pairing it with another food that contains myrosinase,' she said.
As predicted, both foods produced sulforaphane and provided greater anti-cancer benefit, Jeffery said.
Other foods that will boost broccoli's benefits if they are paired together include radishes, cabbage, arugula, watercress, and Brussels sprouts.
'Here's another benefit of protecting and enhancing the myrosinase in your foods,' Jeffery said.
'If myrosinase is present, sulforaphane is released in the ilium, the first part of your digestive system. Absorption happens well and quickly there, which is why we saw bioactivity in 30 minutes.'
Scientists say that as little as three to five servings of broccoli a week provide a cancer-protective benefit.
'But it pays to spice it up for added benefits and find ways to make it appealing so you don't mind eating it if you're not a broccoli fan. I add fresh broccoli sprouts to sandwiches and add them as one of my pizza toppings after the pie is out of the oven,' Cramer said.