Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.
Cauliflower is a firm, dense head of underdeveloped flowers. Like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and turnip, it is a cruciferous vegetable, meaning its flower petals are in the shape of a cross. Cruciferous vegetables are members of the Brassicaceae family. Cauliflower’s scientific name is Brassica oleracea. It is actually a descendant of a wild cabbage, which grew in the Far East about 2,000 years ago. The vegetable later made its way to the Mediterranean via Arab traders, and gained popularity in Europe, especially France, in the 16th century. The United States discovered cauliflower’s culinary versatility and subtle nut-like flavor in the 1920’s. Today it is cultivated mostly in California. Though abundant in spring and fall, it is available year-round in all states.
Nowadays, cauliflower helps brighten the produce section of our markets with its colorful hybrids or varieties of oranges, purples, and greens. But how similar and different (including nutritionally) are these hybrids from the creamy white curd to which we are accustomed?
Similarities between White Cauliflower and the Colorful Varieties
- They are annuals, meaning that their entire life cycle (from seed, to plant, to flower, to seed) takes place in one year.
- They all have varieties within their color groups. White cauliflower, for example, includes White Cloud, Early White Hybrid, and Snow Crown. Orange cauliflower has Cheddar and Orange Bouquet. Purple cauliflower has Graffiti and Purple Head or Cape. Green cauliflower includes Broccoli Romanesco and Broccoflower.
- Best curds (cauliflower heads) should be firm, compact, heavy, free of blemishes or discolorations, and nestled in a bed of fresh, leathery, green leaves.
- They are excellent sources of the following nutrients: dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-5 (pantothenic acid), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folate), C (said to be 100% of what is daily recommended), E, and K, minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, molybdenum, glucosinolates (sulphuric compounds), other phytonutrients (antioxidant compounds), and protein. They are low in sodium, calories, fat, and cholesterol.
- Health benefits. Completed and on-going research indicate that the glucosinolate, omega-3 fatty acids (an antioxidant), and fiber may lower the risk of breast, lung, liver, prostate, and colorectal cancer. The antioxidants can prevent cell-damage by devouring harmful free radicals. Omega-3 fatty acids have inflammatory properties as well. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, and strengthening of the immune system. High quantities of vitamin K encourage strong bone development and aid in blood clotting. Nutrients may also detoxify the body.
- Side effects are flatulence, bloating, cauliflower allergy, gout (purines in cauliflower can cause uric acid build-up), and a somewhat foul odor, especially when over-cooked, due to the sulphuric compounds.
- Food preparation. All varieties of cauliflower can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, sautéed, pickled, microwaved, use as sides or included in casseroles, meat, pasta or vegetable dishes, and in soups. They pair well with cardamom, cumin, curry, cheese like cheddar, garlic, and ginger.
- They can be refrigerated unwashed in a plastic bag for up to seven days with the stalk positioned up.
- The white and orange varieties have similar taste and texture.
Differences between White Cauliflower and the Colorful Varieties
- The white cauliflower takes the longest to cook.
- Evidence indicate that orange cauliflower has 25 times more beta-carotene than white. Beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, creates the vegetable’s orange color. Orange cauliflower also has more selenium (inconclusive research suggests that this mineral is a component of the enzymes that work with antioxidants, promotes a healthy immune system, skin, hair, vision, sperm production, and prevents prostate cancer), and vitamin C. The hybrid was originally discovered in a field near Toronto, Canada in 1970. But in 1980 scientist Dr. Michael Dickson of the New York State Agricultural Station in Geneva, a branch of Cornell University, began searching for the perfect specimen to cross breed with the white cauliflower and create the orange variety we have had since 2003.
- The purple cauliflower gets its vibrant color from the abundance of anthocyanins (antioxidant flavonoids) it contains. It cooks the fastest, and will change from purple to green if over-cooked. It has a sweeter and milder taste than the white and orange hybrids. It is also creamier. Purple cauliflower was discovered and improved, color wise, in Denmark.
- The green variety is actually a hybrid of cauliflower and broccoli. Broccoflower maintains the normal cauliflower appearance, while Broccoli Romanesco resembles a large, spiky cone. This hybrid seems to have more vitamin A, C, minerals, and protein than its white and purple cousins. It was created in California in 1980, and made available for purchase in the early 1990’s.
- Overall, scientists believe multicolored cauliflower hybrids are more nutritious and beneficial than white cauliflower because their glorious hues make them appealing and whet appetites, especially children’s.
lesliebyars on January 31, 2013:
I voted up and interesting. I learned a lot about cauliflower that I didn't know.
RTalloni on January 30, 2013:
Thanks for this rundown on cauliflower varieties. Interesting and helpful, though I still think that the Broccoli Romanesco looks scary. :)