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AT THE MARKET BROCCOFLOWER

Vegetables Wedded : Brain-shaped green cauliflower? It's a hybrid genetic blend grown in Oxnard.

March 12, 1992|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At first glance, it may seem to you that Mother Nature has gone awry.

"Never in all those hours spent meandering up one produce aisle and down another," you say to yourself, "do I remember seeing a green cauliflower." Brain-shaped and with a texture indistinguishable from the garden-variety white cauliflower, this curious version is showing up in markets throughout the county.

How do you explain its chartreuse hue? Genetics--the result of marrying broccoli and cauliflower genes.

A hybridized version of broccoli and cauliflower started cropping up in Ventura County recently, thanks to the Salinas-based Tanimura and Antle Co. The farming entity--a major grower of broccoli and cauliflower--uses about 300 acres of fertile Oxnard soil to grow its trademarked "Broccoflower."

The notion to hybridize the two vegetable staples first struck company President Rick Antle about 12 years ago. According to saleswoman Rosie Pollard, the results were less than inspiring and the experiment was shelved.

But during a European excursion seven years later, Antle's hopes for a newfangled vegetable were rekindled. He discovered that a company in Holland was producing a cauliflower-broccoli hybrid seed. The plant was being grown on a small scale in Europe, but had not yet been introduced to the United States.

Antle, 35, purchased a small amount of the seed and returned to Salinas to sow his fields. The resulting harvest inspired him to purchase all of the hybrid seed the Holland company could offer.

A new produce novelty was born--at least in the United States.

"We first introduced the plant to a few of our customers in 1988 to test the waters," Pollard said. "Initially we're only shipping about 50 to 100 cartons per week." (Each carton contains 12 to 16 heads.)

Interest soon blossomed as consumers devoured what supplies Tanimura and Antle Co. was able to harvest.

Acreage devoted to the plant was increased.

"Now our target each week is to produce around 20,000 cartons," Pollard said.

Once exclusive to Tanimura and Antle Co., other growers are jumping on the new hybrid's bandwagon. Pollard said farmers are free to name their version anything but "Broccoflower." "That's our trademark," she said. "We're the only growers that can call it that. Others have to sell it under a different name--like 'Green Cauliflower' or something."

Essentially--if you haven't already experienced Broccoflower--it looks, well, like green cauliflower. According to Pollard, the hybrid is slightly sweeter than cauliflower, milder than broccoli.

Tanimura and Antle Co. now ships its Broccoflower throughout the United States, and to Singapore and Europe.

"People are always willing to try new things, but personally I think a lot of its success has to do with its bright color," Pollard said. "It can add wonderful color to a dinner plate."

Health-conscious people are also discovering the plant to be a versatile addition. "This is a very nutritional vegetable. It's rich in beta carotene, folic acid and Vitamin C," Pollard said.

Gelson's Market in Westlake Village was among the first to offer Broccoflower in Ventura County.

"We've carried it for a couple years now," said John Parr, who works in Gelson's produce department. "It's popular here, but not that well known yet. Some of the other markets have just recently begun to carry it."

Parr said Gelson's offers Broccoflower for about 99 cents per pound. "That's about a dime higher than broccoli or cauliflower," he said. "The price has actually come down quite a bit."

Other spots around Ventura County you can find Broccoflower are Ralphs, Hughes and Vons markets.

Given its greenish hue, Pollard anticipates Broccoflower to be particularly popular in the coming days. "Now that we have larger supplies and it's more widely available," she said, "we're expecting it to be a hot item for St. Patrick's Day."

SERVING SUGGESTION / SESAME BROCCOFLOWER

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 pound Broccoflower, trimmed, peeled and cut into florets and coins (about five cups)

1/2 teaspoon tamari soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Toss together oil, sesame seeds and Broccoflower in a 2-inch-deep 13 by 10-inch dish. Push florets in to the center of the dish and coins around the inside edge. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook in microwave at full power for four minutes.

Remove from oven and uncover. Add soy sauce and vinegar and toss to cool down.

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