Mark Twain once described cauliflower as “cabbage with a college education.” A member of the cabbage family, cauliflower is akin to broccoli, which it closely resembles. Like its fellow cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage, cauliflower is a cool weather crop perhaps best known for its oft-touted health properties. For local eaters, however, its cool weather ripening and superior storage abilities make it a fall and winter staple.
If you are searching to get more vegetables into your daily diet, cauliflower is a great way to go. Cauliflower lacks the green chlorophyll found in other vegetables of this class (broccoli, cabbage, and kale), because the florets are shielded from the sun by the plant’s leaves during growth. Cauliflower is not pale in terms of nutrition either. Its nutrients help strengthen the immune system and protect against the development of cancer.
A member of the same family tree as cabbage and broccoli, cauliflower has become quite the popular vegetable. When cauliflower reaches its peak in the winter months, it can be found in quite a few different colors, each with their own unique characteristics.
- White Without a doubt the most commonly seen and used is the white cauliflower. It resembles broccoli, buds in large florets with a center core and green leaves, and has a naturally crunchy, mild flavor, making this a meaty vegetable you can easily slice, dice, and enjoy fresh or cooked.
- Purple Yes, bright purple cauliflower exists, and it is in fact purple. These batches will typically be a little tinier than the white versions, with larger surrounding leaves. They contain the same chemical compounds as eggplants and red cabbage, which is what gives them their unique hue. While most of the coloring will fade when cooked, use it fresh or lightly blanched, and interchange with white cauliflower for a brighter dish that your friends and family won’t soon forget.
- Orange If you find an orange-colored cauliflower, don’t be alarmed — it’s not cauliflower gone bad. Rather, these veggies contain a larger than usual amount of vitamin A in their genetic make-up. Shave them fresh into a salad for a colorful boost, or bake with mashed potatoes for a new take on a creamy gratin.
- Green With a slightly sweeter flavor than its white counterpart, green cauliflower resembles broccoli — with a brighter green color and the appearance of the spikier cauliflower buds. Use this interchangeably with white cauliflower for a more vibrant dish.
- Romanesco Also in this family is Romanesco cauliflower. As a hybrid between the broccoli and cauliflower family, and with a similar sweet flavor, Romanesco has a smaller, tighter packed head with a more pyramid-like shape. Dice them up, using only the budding florets, and roast them with some olive oil, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and red chile flakes for a whole new take on your favorite roasted veggie.
Cauliflower is in season during the fall, although it is available throughout most of the winter. Look for firm, tight heads without bruises or brown spots, with evenly colored ivory or cream florets. A few varieties of cauliflower have a green or purple tinge, which is natural and does not change the taste. If any leaves remain, they should be green and fresh looking. Avoid cauliflower with loosely packed or spreading florets. It is acceptable if a few green shoots are showing among the florets, or if the florets look a little grainy or bristly.
Store cauliflower in a loose, perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If you do not use the entire head, plan to eat the remaining florets within a day. Or, you may freeze them, first blanching them in lightly salted water for about 3 minutes, draining, and then putting them in rigid containers or plastic bags in the freezer for up to 1 year. Once cooked, cauliflower keeps for only 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator.
Remove any leaves from the stem end of the head, separate the head into florets and rinse under cold running water. Trim off any brown spots. Cauliflower can be cooked whole as well and the florets separated after cooking. Steam or boil cauliflower until tender and toss with a little butter or lemon juice, or combine with other vegetables, before serving.
Adding a few drops of lemon juice or a little milk to the cooking water helps cauliflower retain its creamy white color. As with cabbage, there is no way to prevent an odor from emanating from the cauliflower during cooking. Cut cauliflower into small florets, cook them quickly, and turn on exhaust fans and open windows to disperse any odor.
1 cup cauliflower contains just 25 kcal, 0.1gm fat, 5.3gm carbohydrates, 4gm fiber, 1.98gm protein. It has a very low glycemic index.
1. Immune support: All fruits and vegetables provide nutrients that strengthen the immune system, and cauliflower is no exception. It’s an excellent source of folate and vitamin C. Just three raw florets provide 67 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C. That’s more than some citrus fruits. The same amount offers 9 percent of the DV for folate. A strong immune system is essential for staving off everything from the common cold to heart disease.
2. Cancer preventive agent: Although cauliflower’s cousin, broccoli, gets most of the attention as a nutrient powerhouse, cauliflower provides many of the same nutrients. In fact, cauliflower is an excellent source of two phytonutrients (chemical nutrients found in plants), sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Together, these nutrients (found in all cruciferous vegetables) help prevent cancer in two ways. They prevent enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body, and they increase the body’s production of enzymes that clean toxins and carcinogens out of the system before they can damage cells. Also, IC3 is a particularly powerful anti-tumor agent, which reduces levels of hormones that may stimulate cellular changes (and, ultimately, tumor growth) in cells of the breasts and prostate.
3. Heart Health: Cauliflower may help decrease cholesterol, particularly LDL, or bad, cholesterol in two ways. First, it is an excellent source of dietary fiber, providing about 3.5 grams, or greater than 13 percent of the DV, in 1 cup, cooked. On average, people who consume the most dietary fiber have a healthier lipid profile. Second, IC3 (powerful cancer-fighting phytonutrient mentioned above) appears to reduce the liver cells’ production of apolipoproteinB-100 (apoB) by over 50 percent. ApoB is the main transporter, or carrier, of LDL cholesterol to tissues. High levels of LDL are linked to atherosclerosis (deposit of plaque in artery walls which is a contributing factor to heart disease and stroke). In addition, folate-rich vegetables, such as cauliflower, are considered heart-protective because folate helps to lower the amount of circulating homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cardiovascular disease, in the bloodstream.