How to Get the Health Benefits of Cruciferous vegetables

Benefits of Raw Cruciferous Vegetables When Cooked

by Maribeth Evezich

What do raw broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes arugula and bok choy have in common? They are all members of the cruciferous family of vegetables and are the produce aisle’s most potent prescription for protecting the brain, eye-sight, reducing free radicals, eliminating toxins and preventing cancer [1].

Unfortunately, most individual’s intake of cruciers is low and their intake of raw crucifers is even lower. Raw Brussel sprouts anyone? While cooked crucifers are nutrient-dense, providing fiber, vitamin C, calcium and more, the cooked versions lack Sulforophane. Sulforophane is a molecule within the isothiocyanate group of organosulfur compounds. It is the equivalent of a pharmaceutical drug’s main active ingredient and is most responsible for broccoli’s health benefits.

Sulforophane is the result of a basic chemical reaction. Raw cruciferous vegetables contain glucorophanin, a glucosinolate. They also contain the enzyme myrosinase. Chewing or chopping broccoli with a knife combines the two compounds. And, given some time, whether digesting in your stomach or resting on your cutting board, the result is sulforophane.

Unfortunately, myrosinase is deactivated by heat. Therefore, cooking crucifers reduces or eliminates the sulforophane production. This same disadvantage applies to frozen crucifers, such as the bags of frozen broccoli in the freezer aisle. According to the Journal of Functional Foods, prior to flash freezing, commercial frozen broccoli has been blanched, quickly immersed in hot water, thereby deactivating the enzymes to extend shelf-life.

So, is eating crucifers raw the only way to derive their full health benefits? Not all. Luckily, there are three ways to get the full benefits of raw crucifers, even when cooked.

Strategy #1: “Hack and Hold”

Chop the crucifers into bite-sized pieces and wait at least 40 minutes before consuming. This is enough time for the myrosinase to combine with the glucorophanin to create sulforophane. Then, cook the crucifers at your leisure.

Strategy #2: Add Raw Crucifers to Cooked Cruciferous vegetables

Apparently, myrosinase is a very potent enzyme. A little goes a long way. In fact, the active myrosinase from raw crucifers can combine with the glucorophanin from the cooked vegetables to create sulforophane. So, consume a small amount of raw crucifers with cooked crucifers to gain the benefits of sulforophane.

Strategy #3: Add Myrosinase From Other Cruciferous vegetables

While most of us don’t have easy access to vials of myrosinase, as used in research, we can add myrosinase from our pantry. Research has shown that mustard seed powder to cooked vegetables provides the active myrosinase required to create sulforophane. Remember, mustard greens are in the cruciferous family. Again, a little goes a long way. In research studies, just a 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seed powder was enough to create sulforphane for seven cups of cooked crucifers. Enzymes are powerful catalysts. So, just a pinch is all that is needed for an individual serving of cooked crucifers. Sprinkle a bit on top of the cooked vegetables, or add some mustard seed powder to your favorite mustard vinaigrette for dressing the cooked crucifers. Alternatively, drizzle a Mustard Seed Balsamic Vinaigrette  to the cooked crucifers and voila, you have sulforphane [2,3].


[1] C Fimognari, P Hrelia. Sulforaphane as a promising molecule for fighting cancer. Mutat Res. 2007 May-Jun;635(2-3):90-104.

[2] R Verkerk, M Schreiner, A Krumbein, E Ciska, B Holst, I Rowland, R D Schrijver, M Hansen, C Gerh!user, R Mithen, M Dekker. Glucosinolates in Brassica vegetables: The influence of the food supply chain on intake, bioavailability and human health. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Sep;53 Suppl 2:S219.

[3] – Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli

Picture of Maribeth Evezich

Maribeth Evezich

Maribeth Evezich MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian working in New York City. She specializes in functional medicine, supplement protocols and culinary nutrition. For more nutrition resources and recipes, visit her blog at

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