While researching methods to increase the already well-recognized anti-cancer properties of broccoli, researchers at the University of Illinois also found a way to prolong the vegetable's shelf life.
And, according to the recently published study, the method is a natural and inexpensive way to produce broccoli that has even more health benefits and won't spoil so quickly on your refrigerator shelf.
Jack Juvik, a U of I crop sciences researcher, explains that the combined application of two compounds, both are natural products extracted from plants, increased the presence of cancer-fighting agents in broccoli while prolonging the post-harvest storage period.
"We had figured out ways to increase the anti-cancer activity in broccoli, but the way we figured it out created a situation that would cause the product to deteriorate more rapidly after application," Juvik says. "For fresh-market broccoli that you harvest, it's not too big a deal, but many of these products have to be shipped, frozen, cut up, and put into other products. Usually the idea is to get it from the farm to at least the distributor (grocery store) within two to three days.
"If we could figure out a way to prolong the appearance, taste, and flavor long after harvest and maintain the improved health-promoting properties, that's always of great interest to growers," he adds.
The researchers first used methyl jasmonate (MeJA), a non-toxic plant-signal compound (produced naturally in plants) to increase the broccoli's anti-cancer potential, which they sprayed on the broccoli about four days before harvest. When applied, MeJA initiates a process of gene activity affiliated with the biosynthesis of glucosinolates (GS), which are compounds found in the tissue of broccoli and other brassica vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage, and kale).