By Erin Marissa Russell and Matt Gibson
Gardeners have a long history of creating hybrid vegetable varieties that allow them to produce vegetables that share the strengths of both their parents through crossbreeding. Some of those hybrids come from two completely different vegetables, and when the two parent vegetables are crossed, the result is something entirely new. One of the most common examples is broccolini, which was created by crossing broccoli with kai lan, or Chinese broccoli.
However, gardeners these days have many more crossbred vegetables to choose from when they want to plant something entirely new. Keep reading to find out about more kinds of tasty hybrid vegetables you can grow in your own garden.
Broccoflower / Romanesco
Broccoflower is the product of crossing broccoli and cauliflower, two brassica vegetables that are so closely related it’s easy for them to cross-pollinate. The result of this cross between broccoli and cauliflower resembles cauliflower in everything but its color—lime green.
If broccoflower is not picked at the appropriate time (when heads measure six to eight inches wide), the pale green heads will actually turn white like cauliflower. Its flavor is similar to cauliflower with a bit less sweetness. Broccoflower also tends to be smaller than cauliflower when mature, less crisp in texture, and not as dense (making it not as heavy). Broccoflower packs more vitamin C than an orange does and contains more vitamin A than either broccoli or cauliflower.
Broccoflower is grown during the cool of fall and winter, and it grows best in gardens that have rich soil that packs a hefty dose of nitrogen. Gardeners can amend their soil to make it more appropriate for growing broccoflower by mixing in compost, well-rotted manure, or bloodmeal.
Mulching the garden bed where broccoflower is grown with lawn clippings can help add nitrogen as well as regulating the soil temperature to keep it cool and choking out weeds. You can learn more in our article Branch Out from Broccoli: How to Grow Broccoflower and Romanesco.
Broccolini / Brokali
One of the most commonly grown hybrids out there is broccolini, sometimes called brokali. You’ll sometimes see broccolini sold under the name “baby broccoli,” but this isn’t an accurate description. Broccolini is actually a cross between standard broccoli and a Chinese vegetable called gai-lan (sometimes referred to as either Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale). The resulting crossbred vegetable has long stalks about the same thickness as asparagus topped with small budded florets. Broccolini has a sweeter flavor and a more tender, toothsome texture than standard broccoli and is excellent roasted, grilled, steamed, and stir-fried.
Broccolini crops perform best when the weather is cool and the soil has a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. The plants thrive when supplied with plenty of consistent hydration and are fed lots of nitrogen via compost tea or a fish emulsion. You can learn more in our article How to Grow Broccolini.
You won’t be able to grow caulilini in your garden, as this vegetable comes to the American market through Mann’s, a Del Monte company—so you may be able to find it in your local produce department. While caulilini is sometimes called baby cauliflower, it’s not actually an immature version of the standard cauliflower vegetable. Though caulilini isn’t a hybrid variety, the name’s similarity to broccolini means it’s often confused for a hybrid which is why we’ve included it on this list.
Caulilini is actually an Asian cauliflower variety, song hua, that’s sometimes sold under the names flowering cauliflower or loose cauliflower. Though you may not be able to find caulilini by that name, it is possible to find seeds for the Asian cauliflower variety song hua. One writer for Modern Farmer suggested that a cauliflower variety from Burpee called Fioretto may be the same veggie as well.
Celtuce is a mashup of celery and lettuce, though the hybrid here is the name of the vegetable. The plant does resemble a cross between lettuce and celery, too, further contributing to the confusion. The celtuce plant itself is not a hybrid, though—it’s simply an Asian variety of lettuce, Lactuca sativa var. Augustana. Celtuce is sometimes referred to instead as stem lettuce, Chinese lettuce, or asparagus lettuce. Unlike with other types of lettuce, the flavor of celtuce doesn’t suffer from bolting, so gardeners can harvest and eat their crops even if hot weather causes the celtuce to bolt.
The celtuce stem can be eaten either raw or cooked. The vegetable consists of a thick, white stem that’s just as edible as the leaves that grow from it. Raw, it has a crisp crunch that works well in salads or sliced as a snack. Cooking the stem brings out the nuances of its flavor, which are nutty and mild. It’s often served grilled or stir-fried as a side dish on its own or a component of sauteed dishes. You can learn more about growing celtuce in the article Celtuce or Stem Lettuce from Permaculture Research Institute.
Cucamelon is the result of crossing cucumber with watermelon, and the result is certainly the cutest hybrid vegetable out there. The fruits of the cucamelon vine are just an inch or so long, about the size of grapes, but they resemble tiny striped watermelons. The flavor of the cucamelon is similar to that of a cucumber, with a bit of a sour, tart bite.
The cucamelon also goes by the name Mexican sour gherkin, and has lots of nicknames, such as mouse melons, pepquinos, Mexican miniature watermelons, sandiita raton, and Mexican sour cucumbers. The entire fruit is edible, including the skin. Cucamelons are often used as a garnish for food and drink, and the fruits are often included in dinner salads or fruit salads.
Cucamelons grow best in warm regions, which makes sense, as they’re native to Central America and Mexico. They should be planted in spring so they’ll have the warm season of summer to grow and develop. Many gardeners grow cucamelons in containers so that if the temperature drops too low for these tropical plants, the containers can be brought indoors overnight.
The plants need a trellis or other support structure nearby so they have something to climb. You can learn more about growing cucamelons in our article How to Grow Cucamelon.
Kalettes are a hybrid crossing of Brussels sprouts and kale, and they contain double the amount of Vitamin C and B6 of regular Brussels sprouts. These veggies have a sweet, nutty flavor that works well when incorporated into many savory dishes. Kalettes look like miniature ornamental kale rosettes. The dark green rosettes are decorated with purple blushes.
Like Brussels sprouts, the buds of kalettes form in the leaf axils that grow along the stem of the plant. Just one cup of super nutritious kalettes provides you with five grams of fiber, 90 percent of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C, and 15 percent of the recommended daily dose of iron. Kalettes can be prepared in a number of different ways, including boiling, stir-frying, steaming, grilling or roasting. You can enjoy these veggies by either eating them raw or tossing them into dishes like soups and stews.
Kalettes are a winter harvest vegetable. Sow the seeds indoors in March, then move kalettes into the garden in May for a November harvest. Plant kalettes in a nitrogen-rich soil that has been amended with compost or well-aged manure, and add a pinch of blood meal at the roots of each kalette plant to give each plant a nitrogen boost.
Mulch with lawn clippings to help deter weeds, improve moisture retention, and provide even more nitrogen. Seriously, these plants really need nitrogen boosts, so the more ways you can get nitrogen to the soil where they’re growing, the better off they will be. Another way to provide additional nitrogen is to spray your kalette plants every two weeks with a treatment such as a fish emulsion or compost tea.
Kalettes are easy to grow, simply requiring a long growing season and a very fertile soil to perform well. There are early, midseason, and late-maturing varieties available. You can learn more in our article How to Grow Kalettes: New Superfood, the Kale and Brussels Sprouts Vegetable Hybrid.
Rabbage is a cross between cabbage and radish, resulting in small heads of ruffly, peppery leaves. The rabbage’s leaves are pretty, with a two-toned effect that makes them both jungle green and vivid purple-red. They’re tasty in cole slaw or salad, shredded to top tacos or sandwiches, and grilled as a side dish. Rabbages are also called raphanobrassica plants.
This particular hybrid vegetable has never enjoyed the same popularity as many of the others. People look down on it as having the worst qualities of its two ancestors: the leaves of the radish and root of the cabbage. As a result, you’ll probably have a hard time locating seeds or starter plants if you decide you want to grow rabbage. You won’t be able to cross this hybrid yourself at home, as rabbage is an intergeneric hybrid, a crossing that’s only possible in the lab and would never have happened in nature.
While some of these crossbred vegetables are only available in the produce department, many of them can be purchased as seeds so you can grow them in your own garden. There’s no better way to make your harvest more exciting than to grow an unusual vegetable. Your family will love getting to know these crossbred hybrid vegetables in the garden as well as on their dinner plates.