Also called: cauli, broccoflower, brocolli romanesco, Brassica oleracea var. botrytis (botanical name)
What is a cauliflower?
Mark Twain described cauliflower as ‘cabbage with a college education’ and many childhood food memories revolve around a cheesy, gooey cauliflower dish. As well as the traditional uses of this vegetable, you can make a moreish snack by whipping up some cauliflower fritters and serving them with a garlicky dip laced with smoked paprika.
Cauliflower was cultivated from wild cabbage that grew in Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. It was introduced by the Moors to Europe and became part of the diet by the 1500s. It was cultivated in the British Isles in the 16th century.
The eccentric-looking cauliflower can get a bad rap – a weird-looking head that becomes smelly when cooked. The natural chemicals that give cauliflower its flavour are also the culprits that cause the unmistakable smell when it is heated.
The most common cauliflowers available in Australia have a creamy, white head that is surrounded by green leaves. Nowadays, there are a number of new varieties available including the broccoflower, a cauliflower with green curds (or head) that is produced by crossing white cauliflower with broccoli.
Brocolli romanesco is another new type of cauliflower. It has a bright yellow-green head with distinctive pointy, cone-shaped florets that have a nutty taste when cooked.
A new variety of purple cauliflower contains substances (anthocyanins) that give this vegetable its unique colour. When you overcook purple cauliflower it turns green as the colour seeps into the cooking water.
Why cauliflower is good to eat
- Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C.
- It is high in dietary fibre and folate.
- Cauliflower contains phytochemicals (such as sulforaphane and carotenoids) that might have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
- Energy – 100 g of cooked cauliflower supplies about 100 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Cauliflowers are usually grown from seedlings and they grow best in cooler climates. Green leaves cover the head or curd, which sits on a stem of the cauliflower.
The plant is ready for harvesting when the white head is firm. When the leaves covering the head begin to spread apart, this indicates that the cauliflower is ready for harvest. The curds turn yellow if they are exposed to the sun. To harvest, the stem of the cauliflower is cut off at ground level.
Choose cauliflowers with a firm head and white florets that are tightly formed. It should feel dense and heavy when you pick it up. Cauliflowers that are yellow are old and should not be selected. Avoid choosing cauliflowers with wilted leaves or other visible damage such as dark spots. The leaves should look crisp and bright green.
How to store and keep cauliflower
Store cauliflower in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. It can keep for up to five days when stored this way.
How to use
- Place raw cauliflower on a platter with radishes, sticks of carrots and cherry tomatoes – serve with a smoky eggplant dip.
- Cook white cauliflower florets and bright green broccoflower in olive oil and garlic, add fresh breadcrumbs, a few anchovies and freshly chopped parsley – a great sidedish to go with fish or meat.
- Cheesy cauliflower is always a favourite – make a sauce with butter, a little flour, some milk and freshly grated Gruyère or mozzarella cheese, toss some breadcrumbson top with grated parmesan and bake until golden.
- Add an Indian twist to your side dish – sauté ginger, garlic and chilli and toss with cooked cauliflower.
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