For vegetable growers, greengrocers and supermarkets alike, it’s one of the most frustrating habits of shoppers.
They claim by doing it, it not only deprives them of income but also deprives the shopper of delicious and longer lasting food.
One store is so frustrated its owners have gone beyond simply shaking their heads when customers are out of view; they’ll now charge customers double if they do this dastardly deed.
So, what is it that some shoppers are doing that causes so much consternation?
Snapping off the stalks of broccoli and dumping them before they head to the cash register.
Some customers reckon the severing of the stalk saves them a few cents on the cost of the dinner; but grocers are aghast.
This week a sign was spotted at a greengrocers in Sydney’s inner west. It was blunt.
“Do not remove broccoli stalks,” it read. “Otherwise be charged double”.
The sneaky crack of the stem is so widespread that grocers are finding legions of them abandoned at the bottom of broccoli crates.
“I always break it off and leave it,” one stalk snapper told news.com.au said, despite acknowledging the amount saved was not huge.
“It’s not about the cost, it’s the principle of being forced to pay for a stalk that won’t be used. Similarly, at the butcher I always ask that any excess fat is trimmed off.”
Another was equally unrepentant: “You get charged by weight so everyone breaks off the bits they don’t eat to get more bang for their buck.”
But a Sydneysider on team stalk said the practice “did her head in”.
“Almost all fresh produce has a certain amount of waste – peel, core, seeds – that isn’t used but you still have to pay for it,” she said.
“You don’t go around leaving banana peels behind or the seed of an avocado. It’s just life.”
One shopper pointed out that supermarkets used to have bins in the fresh produce section where you could dump cauliflower leaves and other unnecessary veg accessories before paying for them. And pineapples have long been sold shorn of their spiky leaves – so why not sell broccoli with its stem detached?
BROCCOLI STEM’S SECRET BENEFIT
The humble broccoli, a member for the brassica family along with cabbage, kale and turnips, is Australia’s 10th most devoured vegetable with half of the crop grown in Victoria.
Farmers are bemused by all the skulduggery of shoppers.
They say there are two very good reasons why the stems should be left intact. The first is because it’s edible – so you’re throwing away perfectly good food.
“Broccoli stalks can be a tasty and healthy addition to any meal,” Shaun Lindhe, spokesman for AUSVEG, the industry group representing vegetable growers, told news.com.au.
“The stalk contains as much nutritional benefit as the florets, and can be used and cooked in many different ways, including for stocks and soups, cut up for stir-fries or salads, cut and eaten raw to accompany dips or as a stand-alone snack, or cooked and added to a meal like you would the florets.”
Broccoli is also high in fibre, potassium and vitamins C and K.
But there was another, hidden, benefit of the stalk – it can actually keep the vegetable fresher for longer.
“Just like a cut flower and its stem, removing a broccoli’s stalk could reduce the vegetable’s life, as the carbohydrates and energy stored in the stalk are important to extending broccoli’s shelf life,” Mr Lindhe said.
Indeed a recent paper from Chinese researchers, and published in the journal Scientia Horticulturae, has found the ideal stem length. Looking at lengths of 1, 3, 6 and 9cm the analysis found too little or too much stalk could degrade the florets over time with a 9cm stalk actually sucking away nutrients from the broccoli head. However, a 6cm stalk was just the right length to keep the florets fresher during an average storage period.
“I would encourage everyone to include plenty of broccoli – florets, leaves and stalks – as part of their diets,” Mr Lindhe said.
So, the sneaky stalk slicers may save but they will also lose out on good food and may see their veggie wilt that bit quicker.
And if this is going on with broccoli, why not other fruit and veg? Supermarkets staff have long tut-tutted at customers who buy the vine ripened tomatoes but then detach the fruit from the vine.
Why don’t we also chop of the ends of leeks and spring onions too while we’re at?
Except be warned, you could be charged double.