Introducing Broccoflower : Vegetables: Cross between cauliflower and broccoli packs more Vitamin C than oranges, plus folic acid, tests show.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It looks like cauliflower dyed green.

It has a pleasing taste, sweeter than cauliflower, milder than broccoli.

"It's called Broccoflower. It's a cross between cauliflower and broccoli and is America's newest vegetable," Joseph Montecalvo explained.

Montecalvo recently completed several weeks of nutritional tests on the plant. He heads up the food science and nutrition department of California Polytechnic State University here.

"It has more Vitamin C than oranges," Montecalvo said. "And it's high in folic acid, which is important to the maintenance of red blood cells carrying oxygen through the human body."

Montecalvo conducted the nutritional profile at the request of Rick Antle, president of Tanimura and Antle Co., headquartered in Salinas. The produce firm has 20,000 acres in lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower in Salinas, the San Joaquin Valley, Yuma, and Obregon, Mexico.

Antle, 33, a fourth-generation California grower and 1979 Cal Poly graduate, is a member of the school's crop science advisory board.

In October 1988 Antle sent a few cases of Broccoflower to his customers on a trial basis. Now his company is shipping 20,000 to 25,000 boxes a week (12 to 16 heads to a box) throughout the country and Canada. Broccoflower sells for about the same price as cauliflower.

"We are a major grower of both cauliflower and broccoli. Wild crosses occur between the two crops. About 10 years ago we began breeding the two vegetables on an experimental basis," Antle recalled.

He said he didn't do much with it. Then, on a trip to Europe three years ago he discovered seeds for a cauliflower-broccoli cross at a seed company in Holland.

"I bought some of the seed, planted it in Salinas, liked what I saw and then bought as much of the seed as was available from the Holland seed company. I learned that the plant was grown commercially on a small scale in Europe, but in all my travels I had never seen it in this country," Antle said.

The seed was expensive--$1,500-a-pound. "But I knew I was onto something. Growers are always looking for a new crop," he said.

Antle called the vegetable Broccoflower and has taken out a trademark application on the name. He sells the product to his regular customers, who are located for the most part along the Eastern Seaboard. About 10% of his production of Broccoflower is distributed in California. It has been sold in a few markets in Southern California the past year.

"It has really caught on. The demand far exceeds the supply so far. Last year we were growing Broccoflower on 300 acres. This year we are increasing the acreage considerably," Antle noted. He said many other growers are now doing test trials on the crop.

"Broccoflower is the talk of the vegetable commodity industry. There is an obvious niche for it in the market. And everybody's trying to get on the bandwagon. We feel fortunate because we've got a head start," he added.

He said the first big public display of Broccoflower will take place at the Food Marketing Institute Trade Show in Chicago the first week in May.

Some 60,000 Broccoflower plants donated to Cal Poly's crop science department were planted on the San Luis Obispo campus April 21 by James Greil, professor at the school's crop science department, and four agriculture students.

"The plantings are part of Cal Poly's enterprise program underwritten by the Cal Poly Foundation. Students involved will earn 67% of the profits from the crop toward their education, with 33% of the profits returned to the foundation," Greil explained.

Both the grower and the students benefit as students will be doing continuous research on the new crop under Greil's direction.

During the height of President George Bush's broccoli brouhaha, George Gowgani, head of Cal Poly's crop science department, shipped a case of Broccoflower to the White House.

"We received a thank you note from a member of the White House staff and were informed that Broccoflower was served raw as a dip at two receptions attended by President Bush. But, we don't know whether the President tried it. Of course, we hope he did and hope he liked it," Gowgani said.

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