The Biggest Difference Between Broccolini And Chinese Broccoli

While you may not have known it, broccoli is just one member of a pretty large family. Two of the most popular variants of traditional broccoli are broccolini and Chinese broccoli (also known as gai lan). However, while broccolini and Chinese broccoli look similar, there are a lot of differences between the two. 

Think of broccolini as the medium balance between Chinese broccoli and the kind that's popular in the U.S. That's because broccolini is actually the offspring of these two different strands, exhibiting characteristics of each. Broccolini was first created all the way back in 1993 and has become a staple at grocery markets ever since. Unlike gai lan, which has numerous wide leaves, like bok choi or spinach, and only tiny florets, broccolini has few leaves, long stems, and many florets, similar to American broccoli. However, unlike the broccoli you might be used to, it does share some characteristics with Chinese broccoli. It's much longer and narrower than broccoli, and the florets are smaller and more tender. 

Despite this, you shouldn't confuse broccolini with gai lan. Broccolini is thinner and milder than its parent plant and less robust. Gai lan resembles a more durable, slightly bitter turnip green, but it's more closely related to cabbage or Brussels sprouts. Additionally, gai lan occurs naturally and has long been popular in many Asian countries served in a variety of dishes. For that reason, the two veggies serve different purposes, though perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the taste. 

The difference is in the taste

With Chinese broccoli, you eat the leaves, and it is on the bitter side and slightly spicy, making it perfect to go with something with an assertive savory flavor like oyster sauce. Meanwhile, broccolini is much milder than gai lan or plain broccoli and even has a hint of asparagus-like nuttiness. Even more so than broccoli, broccolini depends on sauces to add flavor and punch up the dish. 

When it comes to cooking, broccolini and gai lan can be prepared in similar ways, but because of differences in texture and flavor, they shine in different dishes. Because you're cooking the leafy greens with Chinese broccoli, it's best to cook them quickly with plenty of moisture, to wilt them and bring out the flavor, either by stir-frying them or briefly boiling them. Gai lan is especially popular when combined with other vegetables in Asian stir-fry dishes. Broccolini can also be stir-fried, but in order to make the most of its mild flavor it also works well roasted, under the broiler or on the grill. Broccolini can replace broccoli at the dinner table, and be served with everything from pasta to steak. 

Both Chinese broccoli and broccolini are nutrient-rich greens of the superfood variety, so you can enjoy experimenting with different ways to prepare them safe in the knowledge that you're adding more greens to your diet while enjoying something delicious.