Variation in broccoli cultivar phytochemical content under organic and conventional management systems: implications in breeding for nutrition

PLoS One. 2014 Jul 16;9(7):e95683. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095683. eCollection 2014.


Organic agriculture requires cultivars that can adapt to organic crop management systems without the use of synthetic pesticides as well as genotypes with improved nutritional value. The aim of this study encompassing 16 experiments was to compare 23 broccoli cultivars for the content of phytochemicals associated with health promotion grown under organic and conventional management in spring and fall plantings in two broccoli growing regions in the US (Oregon and Maine). The phytochemicals quantified included: glucosinolates (glucoraphanin, glucobrassicin, neoglucobrassin), tocopherols (δ-, γ-, α-tocopherol) and carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, β-carotene). For glucoraphanin (17.5%) and lutein (13%), genotype was the major source of total variation; for glucobrassicin, region (36%) and the interaction of location and season (27.5%); and for neoglucobrassicin, both genotype (36.8%) and its interactions (34.4%) with season were important. For δ- and γ-tocopherols, season played the largest role in the total variation followed by location and genotype; for total carotenoids, genotype (8.41-13.03%) was the largest source of variation and its interactions with location and season. Overall, phytochemicals were not significantly influenced by management system. We observed that the cultivars with the highest concentrations of glucoraphanin had the lowest for glucobrassicin and neoglucobrassicin. The genotypes with high concentrations of glucobrassicin and neoglucobrassicin were the same cultivars and were early maturing F1 hybrids. Cultivars highest in tocopherols and carotenoids were open pollinated or early maturing F1 hybrids. We identified distinct locations and seasons where phytochemical performance was higher for each compound. Correlations among horticulture traits and phytochemicals demonstrated that glucoraphanin was negatively correlated with the carotenoids and the carotenoids were correlated with one another. Little or no association between phytochemical concentration and date of cultivar release was observed, suggesting that modern breeding has not negatively influenced the level of tested compounds. We found no significant differences among cultivars from different seed companies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brassica / chemistry*
  • Brassica / genetics
  • Breeding / methods*
  • Carotenoids / analysis
  • Genotype
  • Glucosinolates / analysis
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Indoles / analysis
  • Maine
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Oregon
  • Organic Agriculture / methods*
  • Organic Agriculture / standards
  • Phytochemicals / analysis*
  • Seasons*
  • Species Specificity
  • Tocopherols / analysis


  • Glucosinolates
  • Indoles
  • Phytochemicals
  • neoglucobrassicin
  • Carotenoids
  • glucobrassicin
  • Tocopherols

Grants and funding

Funding was provided by Seeds of Change ( and monetary funding from Wageningen University, University of Illinois and Oregon State University. The funder had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.