How Thomas Jefferson Introduced Broccoli To The US

When you think of the contributions that the founding fathers have made to our country, you probably don't immediately consider the vegetables you can find at the grocery store. But these famous American statesmen did more than just draft the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly enough, one of the most famous veggies out there, broccoli, was first brought over to the U.S. in the luggage of our third president, Thomas Jefferson. 

Among his many interests, Jefferson was an avid gardener and his farm at Monticello in Virginia often reflected a worldly perspective. There were peppers from Mexico, figs from France, and plenty of peas from England. In one special section, he even showcased his Italian favorites, including squash and green, white, and purple varieties of an edible flower the Italians called "broccolo" and the English called "Italian Asparagus." Jefferson first planted these cabbage offshoots in 1767 — years before America had even declared its independence. 

An Italian vegetable becomes an American staple

Though Jefferson and other gentlemen gardeners of the 18th century may have grown broccoli, the vegetable had its detractors. Many outside Italy decried the sulfur smell that occasionally accompanied the cooking of broccoli. Some criticism was faintly xenophobic as well, with some deeming the ingredient too "foreign," rejecting both the vegetable and the Italian people they were associated with.  

Instead, broccoli really didn't gain steam until the 1920s, when a surplus of Southern Italian immigrants came to America. These new Americans brought over their cuisine and fondness for broccoli, leading to its popularity. Funnily enough, the most common broccoli found in America up until that point was a purple variety rather than the popular green we see today. 

Once farmers realized they could grow plenty of broccoli in California and had a huge market among Italian immigrants, the vegetable was quickly adopted as an American vegetable. Still, you'd do well to remember Jefferson as a veggie trendsetter who saw the potential of broccoli way ahead of time.