Cauliflower may be an easy go-to for a crudité platter, but dunking this complex, ancient vegetable in ranch dressing doesn’t begin to do it justice. People have enjoyed cauliflower for centuries in a variety of cuisines, from Turkish and Indian to French and Chinese. While it’s yummy raw, lightly cooked cauliflower adds a unique, nutty crunch to dishes and holds up well to sauces and in soups and stews.
Cauliflower is in the brassica, or cabbage, family, which also includes kale, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. And the applications for this nutrient-rich vegetable are endless—it’s almost like a blank canvas that takes on the flavors of the aromatics it’s cooked with. Try roasting an entire head of cauliflower dressed with olive oil and curry. Puree steamed cauliflower seasoned with fennel for a delicious soup. Create a tasty Indian side dish of sweet potatoes and cauliflower seasoned with masala. Or for an unusually comforting mac and cheese dish, blend together some cauliflower and cheese, and mix it with brown rice pasta topped with cheddar.
White cauliflower is most common, but you can also find purple and orange varieties, which are both milder in flavor than the white variety. There’s also green cauliflower, both as a variety of cauliflower and as a broccoli hybrid.
A cauliflower head ranges from four to ten inches in diameter, with little clusters of flower buds tightly compacted around a thick stem. Some varieties have large green leaves surrounding the head.
There’s a marked flavor difference between raw and cooked cauliflower. Raw cauliflower is bitter with a sharp profile, and cooked cauliflower is more nutty and mild.
Cauliflower is widely available in all markets throughout the year.
In the US, the peak season for cauliflower is September through February, and in Europe, it’s November through March.
The cauliflower head, also known as the “curd,” should be milky white with tight florets. It should feel heavy and compact. Most cauliflower is sold without the outer leaves, but the vegetable is fresher if it still has them. Size is not an indicator of quality, although some claim that larger cauliflower has a better taste.
Avoid cauliflower with spotted florets, or stems with a dingy tint. If the florets seem loose on the stem, the vegetable is past its prime.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides. Cauliflower ranks at #15 on the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list, meaning that the conventionally grown version is generally less impacted by pesticides.
No matter the variety of produce, the Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Keep unwashed cauliflower in a plastic or paper bag in your refrigerator crisper for up to one week. Place the cauliflower head stem down to avoid excess condensation on the florets. Enjoy pre-cut cauliflower florets within two days of purchase.
The entire cauliflower, including the florets, leaves, and stem, is edible, but most people eat just the florets. After washing the entire head in cool, running water, remove the leaves, then slice the head of florets at the base where it meets the stem. From there, you can cut the florets into large or small pieces, depending on your recipe. Sometimes you may find a dull or brown spot on a floret—simply snip it off with a knife.
To avoid activating a sulfur smell, cook your cauliflower for just a brief time. A short cook time will also help to maintain all the nutrients and retain a snappy texture.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Studies exploring all the medical benefits of cauliflower are sparse, but researchers are finding a greater connection between cauliflower and cancer prevention. You’ll certainly get a boost of B and C vitamins and fiber from this vegetable, and the vitamin K in cauliflower also provides some anti-inflammatory and detoxification benefits.
Cautionary notes: Cauliflower contains purines, naturally occurring substances that may produce an excess amount of uric acid. High amounts of uric acid may prompt gout or produce kidney stones. If you’re prone to these conditions, you may choose to limit your cauliflower intake.
Cauliflower also has a high number of naturally occurring oxalates, which are organic acids, and for some people, these substances can cause health problems. If you have digestive, gallbladder, or kidney issues, eat cauliflower only occasionally to keep oxalates buildup to a minimum. For people with hypothyroidism, raw cauliflower can sometimes interfere with proper thyroid medication function, but cooked cauliflower should be fine.
- Cauliflower blossomed along the Mediterranean Sea, and was a staple of Turkish and Italian cuisine as far back as 600 BC.
- On a tight budget? Some people swear that buttered, steamed cauliflower tastes like lobster!
- The head of the cauliflower is composed of underdeveloped flower buds.