To keep cauliflower heads white, or to "blanch" them, you can tie up leaves (shown left), keep in mind however that tying the leaves into a vertical position tends to trap rainwater, which can bead on the head and sometimes rot it. You are better off simply bending four or five of the large, outside leaves over the crown, then tucking the leaf tip into the opposite side, or use "self-blanching cultivars (shown right) that grow their own "shading" leaves.
Zones 3 and warmer
Grow as spring and fall crops in cool-spring clmiates, and as a winter vegetable in mild climates
Climate Zones Maps
Full sun, partial shade will reduce head size
Needs soil rich in organic matter, well-drained, with plenty of calcium; Ideal pH 6.0 to 6.8, but can tolerate pH as high as 7.4
Needs steady, even moisture
Set plants 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart; 2 to 3 feet (.61 to 1 m) between rows
Pick cauliflower when the heads are full, but before the curds begin to separate
Common Problems: In humid climates, heads may discolor during blanching due to excess moisture. Clip leaves together loosely to shade the head without cutting off the air circulation.
Days to Maturity: Heads are ready 50 to 125 days from transplanting.
Harvest and Storage: Pick cauliflower when the heads are full, but before the curds begin to separate. Cut through the stem under the head, leaving a few "wrapper" leaves for protection. Curds bruise easily, so handle with care. Before eating or storing cauliflower, soak it in lightly salted water, (1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) of salt per gallon (4 l)), for 30 minutes to drive out any unnoticed cabbageworms that may be hiding in the heads. Cauliflower will keep for one to two weeks in the refrigerator if wrapped in plastic. It does not store well in a root cellar. The best way to store it for longer periods of time is to freeze it.
You'll want to include cauliflower as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, include cruciferous vegetables as part of your diet 2-3 times per week, and make the serving size at least 1-1/2 cups. Even better from a health standpoint, enjoy cauliflower and other vegetables from the cruciferous vegetable group 4-5 times per week, and increase your serving size to 2 cups.
As with all vegetables be sure not to overcook cauliflower. We suggest Healthy Sautéeing cauliflower rather than the more traditional methods of boiling or steaming, which makes them waterlogged, mushy and lose much of its flavor. Cut cauliflower florets into quarters and let sit for 5 minutes before cooking. For great tasting cauliflower add 1 tsp of turmeric when adding the cauliflower to the skillet.
While cauliflower is not a well-studied cruciferous vegetable from a health standpoint, you will find several dozen studies linking cauliflower-containing diets to cancer prevention, particularly with respect to the following types of cancer: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. This connection between cauliflower and cancer prevention should not be surprising, since cauliflower provides special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body's detox system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly.
The detox support provided by cauliflower includes antioxidant nutrients to boost Phase 1 detoxification activities and sulfur-containing nutrients to boost Phase 2 activities. Cauliflower also contains phytonutrients called glucosinolates that can help activate detoxification enzymes and regulate their activity. Three glucosinolates that have been clearly identified in cauliflower are glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin, and gluconasturtiian. While the glucosinolate content of cauliflower is definitely significant from a health standpoint, cauliflower contains about one-fourth as much total glucosinolates as Brussels sprouts, about one-half as much as Savoy cabbage, about 60% as much as broccoli, and about 70% as much as kale.
If we fail to give our body's detox system adequate nutritional support, yet continue to expose ourselves to unwanted toxins through our lifestyle and our dietary choices, we can place our bodies at increased risk of toxin-related damage that can eventually increase our cells' risk of becoming cancerous. That's one of the reasons it's so important to bring cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables into our diet on a regular basis.
As an excellent source of vitamin C, and a very good source of manganese, cauliflower provides us with two core conventional antioxidants. But its antioxidant support extends far beyond the conventional nutrients into the realm of phytonutrients. Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower's key antioxidant phytonutrients. This broad spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells. Chronic oxidative stress—meaning chronic presence over overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and cumulative damage to our cells by these molecules—is a risk factor for development of most cancer types. By providing us with such a great array of antioxidant nutrients, cauliflower helps lower our cancer risk by helping us avoid chronic and unwanted oxidative stress.
As an excellent source of vitamin K, cauliflower provides us with one of the hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrients. Vitamin K acts as a direct regulator of our inflammatory response. In addition, one of the glucosinolates found in cauliflower—glucobrassicin—can be readily converted into an isothiocyanate molecule called ITC, or indole-3-carbinol. I3C is an anti-inflammatory compound that can actually operate at the genetic level, and by doing so, prevent the initiation of inflammatory responses at a very early stage.
Like chronic oxidative stress and chronic weakened detox ability, chronic unwanted inflammation can significantly increase our risk of cancers and other chronic diseases (especially cardiovascular diseases).
Scientists have not always viewed cardiovascular problems as having a central inflammatory component, but the role of unwanted inflammation in creating problems for our blood vessels and circulation has become increasingly fundamental to an understanding of cardiovascular diseases. The anti-inflammatory support provided by cauliflower (including its vitamin K and omega-3 content) makes it a food also capable of providing cardiovascular benefits. Of particular interest is its glucoraphanin content. Glucoraphanin is a glucosinolate that can be converted into the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane. Not only does sulforaphane trigger anti-inflammatory activity in our cardiovascular system—it may also be able to help prevent and even possibly help reverse blood vessel damage.
The fiber content of cauliflower—over 9 grams in every 100 calories—makes this cruciferous vegetable a great choice for digestive system support. Yet the fiber content of cauliflower is only one of its digestive support mechanisms. Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from a glucosinolate in cauliflower (glucoraphanin) can help protect the lining of your stomach. Sulforaphane provides you with this health benefit by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to your stomach wall.
The anti-inflammatory nature of glucosinolates/isothiocyanates and other nutrients found in cauliflower has been the basis for new research on inflammation-related health problems and the potential role of cauliflower in their prevention. While current studies are examining the benefits of cruciferous vegetables as a group rather than cauliflower in particular, promising research is underway that should shed light on the potential benefits of cauliflower in relationship to our risk of the following inflammation-related health problems: Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.
All cruciferous vegetables provide integrated nourishment across a wide variety of nutritional categories and provide broad support across a wide variety of body systems as well.
Cauliflower, a cruciferous vegetable, is in the same plant family as broccoli, kale, cabbage and collards. It 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 tree, something that many kids are fascinated by.
Surrounding the curd are ribbed, coarse green leaves that protect it from sunlight, impeding the development of chlorophyll. While this process contributes to the white coloring of most of the varieties, cauliflower can also be found in light green and purple colors. Between these leaves and the florets are smaller, tender leaves that are edible.
Raw cauliflower is firm yet a bit spongy in texture. It has a slightly sulfurous and faintly bitter flavor.
The milk, sweet, almost nutty flavor of cauliflower is at its best from December through March when it is in season and most plentiful in your local markets.
Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have originated in ancient Asia Minor, which resembled kale or collards more than the vegetable that we now know it to be.
The cauliflower went through many transformations and reappeared in the Mediterranean region, where it has been an important vegetable in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C.
It gained popularity in France in the mid-16th century and was subsequently cultivated in Northern Europe and the British Isles. The United States, France, Italy, India, and China are countries that produce significant amounts of cauliflower.
When purchasing cauliflower, look for a clean, creamy white, compact curd in which the bud clusters are not separated. Spotted or dull-colored cauliflower should be avoided, as well as those in which small flowers appear.
Heads that are surrounded by many thick green leaves are better protected and will be fresher. As its size is not related to its quality, choose one that best 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.
If you purchase pre-cut cauliflower florets, consume them within one or two days as they will lose their freshness after that. Since cooking causes cauliflower to spoil quicker, consume it within two to three days of placing in the refrigerator after cooking.
Cauliflower florets are the part of the plant that most people eat. However, the stem and leaves are edible too and are especially good for adding to soup stocks.
To cut cauliflower, first 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. These odors become stronger with increased cooking time. If you want to minimize odor, retain the vegetable's crisp texture, and reduce nutrient loss, cook the cauliflower for only a short time.
Some phytonutrients may react with iron in cookware and cause the cauliflower to take on a brownish hue. To prevent this, add a bit of lemon juice to the water in which you blanch the cauliflower.
From all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking cauliflower, our favorite is Healthy Sauté. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for concentrated nutrient retention. Begin by cutting cauliflower florets into quarters and let sit for at least 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting benefits. To Healthy Sauté cauliflower, heat 5 TBS of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add cauliflower florets (cut into quarters) and turmeric, cover, and Healthy Sauté for 5 minutes.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6. It is a very good source of choline, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, phosphorus, and biotin. Additionally, it is a good source of vitamin B2, protein, vitamin B1, niacin, and magnesium.