Nutrition: Cauliflower offers a lot of nutritional punch with no starch or fat. One cup raw contains only 25 calories, but 2 grams of dietary fiber (as much as a slice of whole wheat bread) and 2 grams of protein. Cauliflower is very high in vitamin C and is also a good source of vitamins K and B6, folate, potassium and manganese. One large head contains about 8 cups raw cauliflower florets.
Selection: Look at the “curds,” the center head of florets. For most varieties, the curds should look creamy white with no blemishes or brown spots. The florets should be tightly packed with no gaps. The outer leaves should look bright green and fresh, and feel firmly attached to the head.
Storage: Cauliflower will stay fresh, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, for at least five days.
Preparation: Cauliflower is among the most versatile of winter veggies. It can be steamed, boiled, roasted, stir-fired, mashed, grilled, broiled or cut into steaks and barbecued. Dried cauliflower “flour” can be used to make pizza crust and other gluten-free baked goods.
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Close relatives: Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage (or cole) family, but the botanical relationship is much closer than it appears by looking at these vegetables. Cauliflower – along with broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and more – shares the same species as cabbage, Brassica oleracea. Today’s modern vegetables are all variations of that species, developed over many centuries.
Colorful heads: Cauliflower with familiar white curds is most common, but this veggie also comes in green, purple and orange. Sometimes called “broccoflower,” green cauliflower varieties include Romanesco broccoli, which features mathematically fascinating “fractal spiral” curds. Purple cauliflower gets its bright color from the same source as red cabbage or red wine – antioxidants called anthocyanins. Orange cauliflower, which has more vitamin A than white cauliflower, also gets its hue from antioxidants. With such varietal names as Cheddar or Orange Bouquet, all orange cauliflower on the market today can be traced back to one natural mutant with an orange head discovered in a Canadian farm field.
Mediterranean favorite: Cauliflower (which means “cabbage flower”) has deep roots in Italy. The earliest references to this descendant of Europe’s wild cabbage date back to the Romans. Its popularity worked its way around the Mediterranean Sea with different cultivars developed in various coastal climates. By the 12th century, Syrian cauliflowers migrated to Spain and Cyprian cauliflowers made it to the Arabian peninsula. By the 1600s, cauliflower was part of the royal diet in France.
The Brits (who got cauliflower from the French) likely get credit for cauliflower’s current global popularity. West-East trade and colonists brought cauliflower to China, perhaps as early as the 17th century. In the early 1800s, British colonists introduced cauliflower to India, where it quickly became a favorite vegetable. A tropical variety, developed by Indian and Chinese growers in the early 1900s, allowed this cool-weather crop to succeed in sometimes hot, humid conditions. China and India now grow more than three-fourths of the world’s cauliflower.