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Know Your Fruits and Veggies™: Cauliflower
By Dawn Swidorski, Public Outreach Director
"Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." - Mark Twain
Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea. The family Brassicaceae also includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and collard greens. The plant is thought to have originated in Asia Minor and has been an important vegetable in the region since around 600 B.C.
It gained popularity in France in the mid-16th century and was later cultivated in Northern Europe, the British Isles, United States, India and China.
Cauliflower has a compact head (called a curd), with an average size of six inches in diameter, composed of undeveloped flower buds. The flowers are attached to a central stalk.
When broken apart into separate buds, cauliflower looks like a little white tree.
Surrounding the head are ribbed, coarse green leaves that protect it from sunlight, which impedes the development of chlorophyll. While this contributes to the white coloring of most of the varieties, cauliflower can also be found in other colors.
Typically, only the head is eaten while the stalk and surrounding thick, green leaves are used in vegetable broth or discarded. Cauliflower is nutritious, and may be eaten cooked, raw or pickled.
There are four major groups of cauliflower.
• Italian. Diverse appearance, biennial and annual types. Includes white, Romanesco, various green, purple, brown and yellow cultivars. This type is the ancestral form from which the others were derived.
• Northwest European biennial. Used in Europe for winter and early spring harvest. Developed in France in the 19th century.
• Northern European annuals. Used in Europe and North America for summer and fall harvest. Developed in Germany in the 18th century.
• Asian. Tropical cauliflower used in China and India. Developed in India during the 19th century from the now-abandoned Cornish type.
• Cauliflower also comes in 4 primary colors: white, orange, green and purple.
Orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of Vitamin A of white varieties. This trait came from a natural mutant found in a cauliflower field in Canada.
Green cauliflower is sometimes called brocco-flower. It is available both with the normal curd shape and a variant spiky curd called "Romanesco broccoli" Both types have been commercially available in the US and Europe since the early 1990s.
Purple cauliflower is caused by the presence of the antioxidant group anthocyanin, which can also be found in red cabbage and red wine.
Cauliflower is low in fat and high in dietary fiber. Cauliflower is high in vitamin C, an excellent source of vitamin K, folate and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Cauliflower is also a fair source of iron, a very good source of manganese, potassium, protein, phosphorus and contains many antioxidants including: Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol. It is a very good source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and manganese and magnesium. Quite a powerhouse!
How to Select and Store
Look for a clean, compact head in where the bud clusters are not separated. Avoid heads that are spotted as well as those in which small flowers appear. Heads surrounded by many thick green leaves are better protected and will be fresher. Size is not related to its quality, so choose the one that suits your needs.
Store uncooked cauliflower in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to a week. To prevent moisture from developing in the floret clusters, store it with the stem side down.
Tips for preparing cauliflower
Remove the outer leaves and then slice the florets at the base where they meet the stalks. You can further cut them, if you desire pieces that are smaller or of uniform size. Trim any brown coloration that may exist on the edges.
Cauliflower contains phytonutrients that release odorous sulfur compounds when heated. To minimize odor, retain the vegetable's crisp texture, and reduce nutrient loss, cook cauliflower for only a short time.
Some phytonutrients may react with cast iron cookware and cause the cauliflower to take on a brownish hue. To prevent this, use stainless steel cookware or add a bit of lemon juice to the blanching water.
A few quick serving ideas
• Because of its shape and mild nutty taste, cauliflower florets make a wonderful crudite addition for any veggie platter.
• Sauté cauliflower with garlic, minced ginger and soy sauce.
• Puree cooked cauliflower, add vegetable or chicken broth, your other favorite herbs and spices and serve as soup.
• Puree cooked cauliflower and serve instead of mashed potatoes. You can also add them to mashed potatoes.
• Toss olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic with cauliflower. Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.
Updated October 14, 2011
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