They may all be leafy greens with a bud of crunchy florets, but romanesco, cauliflower, and broccoli are not one in the same. If you're looking to switch up your normal rotation of veggies or just want to know what exactly it is that you're staring at in the produce aisle, we've carefully lined out the differences in these three cruciferous beauties. If you've not gotten around to trying all three out, we think that now is the time.
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Even though they’re all part of the same family of vegetables and thus have similar qualities, these three tree-like produce items have subtle differences that make a difference in the context of what you're cooking. So it’s time we set the record straight on what’s what. Despite the fact that they are all members of the family Brassica oleracea, these leafy greens vary in taste, texture, and ideal preparation methods. So next time you’re headed to the produce aisle for a healthy fix of crunchy cruciferous veggies, make sure you know what you’re signing up for with each of these foods.

Broccoli Romanesco with Green Herb Sauce
Credit: Aya Brackett; Styling: Amy Wilson

Romanesco, most likely the least familiar name of the bunch, and not to be confused with romesco, is an edible bud that is also commonly referred to as Romanesco Cauliflower or Romanesco Broccoli, depending on where you are. Confusing, right? It’s coloration falls somewhere in the middle of broccoli and cauliflower, but what truly sets it apart from the others is it’s unmistakable texture. It’s spiky yet symmetrical style looks like an unsolved math puzzle, and offers a super textural, crunchy experience. Similar to broccoli, Romanesco is great for anything from crudites, to a simple steamed dish, or even roasted on a sheet pan. Expect a flavor closer to broccoli, with a slightly earthier profile.

Cauliflower and broccoli, which you’re probably much better acquainted with, share additional differences other than the fact that the former is white and the latter is green. Cauliflower florets are packed much tighter, and the stems are often much firmer and less fibrous than that of broccoli. Without going too Bill Nye on you, even though these two foods belong to the same plant family with kale and cabbage, where they differ is their cultivar group. In other words, if you think that cauliflower is white broccoli, you are sorely mistaken. Like other hearty leafy greens, they’re best roasted, steamed, or shaved raw in salads. Cauliflower lends itself well to being pureed and mashed into a smooth velvety texture, where broccoli's texture and stronger, more cabbage-like flavor does not make it the best veggie mash situation.

Cranberry-Almond Broccoli Salad

Cranberry-Almond Broccoli Salad

So yes, they all have florets and loosely look like the shape of small trees, but these are all three very different vegetables that offer a myriad of varying nutrients, flavors, and textures. If you’re a fan of at least one of the three, take that leap of faith into the great abyss of unknown leafy greens and give it a whirl. You never know what hearty discover you might find.

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane