Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Indomitable Ninja Broccoli (Brócolis Ninja)

Victory, at last. For months now, ever since a hot tip came in on the wire from Paulistano WV agent Ervilho Frita ("Pea Fry," though I've happily butchered the Portuguese rules of masculino/feminina and reinvented "ervilha" as a macho pea-o), I've been stalking the (in)famous Ninja Broccoli, part of the stealth gang of green mercenaries known in these parts as Brócolis Ninja.

It may look like a normal head of broccoli, but this is no ordinary inflorescent, no. Its floret might look rotund and jolly like its average American counterpart but the ninja broccoli's cat-like swiftness and diabolical cunning are dead serious.

The ninja broccoli is a variant that cropped up mysteriously amidst fields of the previously more common (in Brazil) sprouting broccoli, or brócolis ramoso, which has more numerous branchings and thinner stalks. Another complication is that this chubby ninja known as "normal" broccoli in the U.S. is called "calabrese" in Britain (from Calabria in Italy), a name whose fancy foreign connotation U.S. farmers apply to the other, thinner, more exotic, usually heirloom, and sometimes royally purple-tinged sprouting type. An insane amount of broccoli lore can be had here.

As might be expected, the origins of the "ninja" identity of this broccoli in Brazil are somewhat obscure. In Rio, no one at the farmers' markets had even heard of "brócolis ninja." "Must be from São Paulo," many of the vendors mused about the Japanese-sounding name. São Paulo state has the largest population of Japanese descent in Brazil, a country that has has the largest population of Japanese descent outside of Japan. Most Japanese immigrants originally came as farmers, beginning at the end of the nineteenth century. If you are surprised by this, read more here.

Sprouting broccoli is considered tastier but the "one-headed broccoli," or ninja broccoli (brócoli de cabeça única) is easier to harvest with one swoop of the blade, more weather resistant, and holds up well in the freezer section, so its popularity in the veggie marketplace has risen.

To return to our origin tale... this site (in Portuguese) claims that ninja broccoli began to sprout as a genetic accident, a hybrid among fields of "normal," or sprouting broccoli (recall that the U.S. "normal" broccoli is this genetic aberration). At first, farmers considered it an undesirable variant but could not get rid of this broccoli that kept appearing and spreading mysteriously. A Japanese scientist, who preferred to remain anonymous, compared these cunning broccoli to ninjas, and the name stuck, immediately snatched up by marketing professionals as a stroke of genius: Ninja broccoli, your kid's favorite vegetable. Sounds suspicious? Well, the site is called "Crazy Train" (Trem Doido), so factor that into whether you believe it or not. Maybe we are to believe this story to the extent that we believe that this guy is a deadly Broccoli Ninja:

left on my virtual doorstep by
Brazilian vegetable queen V. Berinjela

So far, I haven't been able to find any other explanation of why it's called "ninja broccoli," and for now we might come to the simple conclusion that it just sounds cool, ninjas being arguably one of the coolest figures to come out of Japanese history and lore (unless you're partial to samurais. It's kind of like that old Goddard or Truffaut debate). Anyone with more information, please comment. I will update if I find anything at the library (the Internet has exhausted me for the time being).

image source


Woolly Mammoth said...

Perhaps ninja brocoli have been planted by these dastardly monsters?
The Powerpuff Girls will have to be called in to investigate.

kale daikon said...

That evidence is incontrovertible, Woolly. The only thing to do is to eat up these diabological spores. One day the rabbits, goats, and sissies are going to save this planet from the evil broccoloid empire.

Jan said...

Eat hearty! But eat them. Not only will they be gone, but they are great for you!

Anonymous said...

Victory! Love the cartoon! --Celery K.