Cauliflower-The Cabbage that Blooms Like a Flower.
Cauliflower
Resources > Food > Vegetables > Caulis > Cauliflower

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Cauliflower, Brassica oleracea var. botrytis, is, as the name implies actually a flower that grows from a plant. Cauliflower gets its name from the Latin word caulis, meaning stem or stalk (from which the edible part grows).  The Moors named it cavoli a fiore, or “the cabbage that blooms like a flower.”   It is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the Cabbage family, which includes Cabbage, Kale, Collards and Broccoli.  Although it is most closely related to Broccoli, even in taste, instead of growing in small florets, Cauliflower forms a single compact head of unsprouted flower buds, called a curd.

An important part of Cauliflower’s growth is its training.  As Mark Twain said in Puddn’head Wilson, “Training is everything.  A peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.”  (In Twain’s case, cabbage was cheap and a staple in most Victorian American homes, and in those days only sophisticates—or college educated folks—could afford Cauliflower.)  Likely an inventive Babylonian farmer was the first to cover a young Cauliflower bud with its own leaves, forming a loose pouch that kept it dry and protected it from the sun, with the result that the full-grown plant never developed chlorophyll and became more tender, and pure white (a process called “blanching”).  Left to its own devices, non-blanched (or untrained) Cauliflower is an offwhite/pale yellow color and certainly edible, though not quite as sweet as the blanched version.

Cauliflower is believed to have been cultivated as far back as  2000 years ago.  It may have come from the Orient, but in the West, it was mostly known only in Mediterranean nations until the 16th century.  In the mid-1600s, Louis XIV became enamored of it, and suddenly Cauliflower was all the rage in Europe.  It was considered a rare and elegant dish and often served with rich cream and meat sauces.  That popularity also sparked its first cultivation in America, where until late in the 20th century, it was at first expensive and exotic, and then lost much of its popularity and was only eaten raw on crudité platters or boiled to a fare-thee-well and served virtually unseasoned.  But with America’s growing interest in worldwide cuisines and health foods, at last Cauliflower has gained a well-deserved reputation as a versatile vegetable and nutritional powerhouse.

Season

These days, Cauliflower is available pretty much year round.  Though it is called a Winter Vegetable and is at its best in fall and winter months, there is often a second crop in late spring from milder climates, including California, where conditions are nearly perfect for growing Cauliflower in all but a few hot summer months.

Availability

Cauliflower is available at almost all grocery stores all year long. 

Cultivation

Cauliflower is a bit of a diva.  It needs extra attention and just the right conditions to grow well.  It likes lots of sun, yet cool temperatures—but it mustn’t be too cold; it doesn’t like frost.  It needs extra water, yet its leaves must be dry, especially when blanching (covering the young bud with its leaves to whiten the curd).  It is happiest with steady doses of extra fertilizer, yet grows best in slightly acidic soil.  It demands lots of space.

Production

In regular production, Cauliflower is “trained” with a technique called “blanching” so that the Cauliflower’s own exterior leaves are used to cover the bud / head which minimizes exposure to sunlight. The result is a lack of chlorophyll production which in turn leads to a whiter, sweeter, more tender head. The agricultural technique is different than the cooking technique Blanching.

Un-blanched by the farmer, untrained Cauliflower is pale yellow/off white and not quite as sweet.

Varieties

There are over a hundred varieties of Cauliflower, most of which are versions of the familiar White Cauliflower seen in every grocery store.  There is also Purple Cauliflower, Orange Cauliflower, Green Cauliflower (aka Broccoflower), and Romanesco, also called Romanesco Broccoli, though it is technically a Cauliflower. 

Though there are some nutritional differences, the flavors of White, Purple and Orange Cauliflowers are similar and they can be used interchangeably (note that when boiled, Purple Cauliflower loses most of its color and takes on a greenish hue).  Green Cauliflower, which is a hybrid of Broccoli and White Cauliflower, has a milder, sweeter flavor than White and a firmer texture.  Romanesco is a fascinatingly cone-shaped plant, charteuse green in color, and has a lovely nutty taste.  It also has a much shorter shelf life, about half that of other Cauliflowers.  There are a number of varieties of Baby Cauliflowers.  These are usually richly colored (and make a wonderful presentation) and have a milder flavor than large Cauliflowers.

Purchasing

When buying Cauliflower, look for heavy, white or cream-colored, heads that are uniform in color and tightly bunched.  Avoid any that are speckled or have brown spots.  A good indicator of freshness is the quality of the leaves, which should be sturdy and crisp.  If the leaves are yellowed and wilted, or even worse have been removed, the plant has been sitting on the shelf for a good while, and will taste its age.

Storage

Though it will last 1-2 weeks refrigerated wrapped in plastic (small holes in the plastic will keep it fresh and dry longest), Cauliflower tastes best when eaten as soon as possible after purchasing.  Store it stem side down for best results. In a pinch, Cauliflower can also be frozen. It should last 6-8 months in the freezer.

Culinary Uses

Cauliflower has a mild flavor that makes it an ideal vehicle for a variety of spices and flavorings. On Smart Kitchen’s Homeplate™ Cauliflower is considered Raw, Tough, Thick, Moist, Lean or (R, T2, T4, M, L).

Cauliflower can be eaten Raw, for example in a Crudité plate or a Salad. It is also eaten cooked, but because it is already naturally “Tender,” it doesn’t need much heat. In its natural state, a head of Cauliflower is “Thick” and Cauliflowers, which are 92% water according to the University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, are Moist. Finally they have very little fat and are a “Lean” item. .

The healthiest cooking techniques to use with Cauliflower are Raw, Steaming, Blanching, and Roasting though it is so chock-full of vitamins and minerals that even Boiling Cauliflower still leads to a nutritious outcome.  Using a lot of water will cause much of the Vitamin C and Vitamin B to leach away into the cooking liquid. Solve the problem by using the cooking liquid in your presentation.

Like all crucifers, Cauliflower loves fat, playing up the richness of even a small chunk of Salt Pork or a single tablespoon of Whole Butter. Adding fat to the cooking process suggests using some slightly less healthy techniques including: SautéeingPan Frying or Deep Frying. Some chefs are even using thick-cut Cauliflower as a a "Cauliflower Steak," and treating it as they would handle Steak

Cauliflower can be served in myriad ways— from recently picked, lightly Steamed with a little Butter and Black Pepper, or Sautéed with a bit of Olive Oil, Capers and Garlic. Cooked Cauliflower can paired with a Sauce such as a rich Hollandaise Sauce or Mornay Sauce, used in a vegetable Fondue, as part of a vegetable Tempura, in an au gratin, even pickled, to name a few options. 

Cauliflower is traditionally used in Soups. In fine dining versions, Cauliflower is be Puréed to the smoothest of textures. Many top chefs use this technique, including the legendary French chef Joel Robuchon, in his Gelée de Caviar a la Crème de Chou-fleur (Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Caviar), a dish that helped his restaurant Jamin earn its three star Michelin rating. Smart Kitchen’s Soup exercise on making Cream of Cauliflower Soup is a bit less complex but will still warm your belly.

In more rustic soup preparations like those in Eastern European Cuisine, Cauliflower florets are paired with GarlicCapers. In Italy, they add Anchovies to the mix. Indian Cuisine and Asian Cuisine also make good use of Cauliflower in their multi-spiced cuisines.

This resource page is a general Cauliflower resource but individual varieties of Cauliflower while being generally similar will have some distinctive characteristics. For example, the flavors of White, Purple and Orange Cauliflowers are similar and they can be used interchangeably except that Boiling (or similar) will cause Purple Cauliflower to turn green as it bleeds its purple color into your cooking liquid. 

Green Cauliflower, which is a hybrid of Broccoli and White Cauliflower, has a milder, sweeter flavor than White and a firmer texture. 

Romanesco is a fascinatingly cone-shaped plant, charteuse green in color, and has a lovely nutty taste.  It also has a much shorter shelf life, about half that of other Cauliflowers.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 oz of Cauliflower per person.

Substitutes

Broccoli

Nutritional Value USDA
CAULIFLOWER,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 25
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
1%
Sodium 30mg
6%
Potassium 299mg
1%
Total Carbohydrate 4g
8%
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 1g
Protein 1g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Nutrition-wise, Cauliflower is classed as a “superfood,” with good reason.  It’s a veritable one-a-day multivitamin & mineral.  It boasts high amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants such as carotenoids and manganese, B vitamins (Pantothenic acid, niacin, folic acid, pyridoxine, thiamine and riboflavin), dietary fiber, protein, and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, selenium, zinc and iron.  It contains many anti-inflammatory compounds—vitamin K, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, and a compound called glucoraphin, which are all helpful in reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and colitis, as well as stomach ulcers and cancer.  And with its high fiber and low fat, Cauliflower could have been created with dieters in mind.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes