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Cauliflower: A Cabbage with a College Education

Autumn has officially arrived, and that can only mean one thing (well, it could mean several thousand things, actually, but let’s not quibble): it’s cauliflower season!

This is very exciting news, as I am and always have been deeply, hopelessly in love with this charismatic member of the cabbage family. (And I make a mean stewed cauliflower, if I do say so myself.) Let’s dig in, shall we?

The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad. It has been adapted for the Web.


(Brassica oleracea botrytis)

Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.

—Mark Twain

The Latin name Brassica derives from the Celtic bresic. The term oleracea refers to a vegetable garden herb that is used in cooking, while botrytis is a Greek word meaning “clusterlike” or “grapelike.” The English word cauliflower comes from the Latin words caulis, meaning “stem” or “cabbage,” and flos, “flower.”

General Information
Cauliflower, like its cousin broccoli, is a member of the cabbage family, and it took centuries of cultivation to produce a tight head of clustered flower buds in place of the compact leaves of the cabbage head. Thousands of tiny white flower buds are closely packed into even larger buds, forming the florets that make up the single large round head or “flower.” Cauliflower was introduced into medieval Europe by the Arabs during their occupation of Spain, and by the twelfth century Spaniards were eating as many as three varieties of the vegetable. In sixteenth-century England, cauliflower was called “Cyprus coleworts,” probably because it was first imported from the island of Cyprus. A new green variety has been developed commercially that is a cross between conventional cauliflower and broccoli. The head resembles cauliflower, but the color is chartreuse, rather than the dark green of broccoli.

Buying Tips
Quality cauliflower is creamy or snowy white, clean, heavy, firm, and compact, with outer leaves that are fresh and green. Avoid any that has the appearance of being ricelike or granular, speckled, or spotted, or that has yellowing leaves. The size of the vegetable has little to do with its quality. Keep cauliflower in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Culinary Uses
Cauliflower can be served either raw in salads and vegetable dip platters or cooked as a vegetable on its own or combined with other vegetables. However, if cauliflower is cooked too long, its sulfur compounds will decompose and form an offensive odor. Green cauliflower has a pleasant taste, cooks more quickly than the white variety, and is less apt to give off the usual cabbagelike odor while cooking. Since cauliflower is a type of cabbage, the leaves, flower stalk, and midveins of the big leaves make excellent eating.

Health Benefits
pH 5.60–6.80. Cauliflower is not as nutrient-dense as many of the other cabbage family vegetables. Its white color is a sign that it contains far less of the beneficial carotenes and chlorophyll, but it is a good source of boron because cauliflower does not grow well in boron-deficient soils. Cauliflower helps purify the blood, aids bleeding gums if eaten raw, and is helpful in cases of asthma, kidney and bladder disorders, high blood pressure, and constipation. Because its high sulfur content may cause indigestion and hinder the assimilation of food, cauliflower should be used in moderation and not combined with other sulfur-rich foods. All Brassica genus vegetables contain dithiolthiones, a group of compounds that have anticancer, antioxidant properties; indoles, substances that protect against breast and colon cancer; and sulfur, which has antibiotic and antiviral characteristics. This family of vegetables also mildly stimulates the liver and other tissues out of stagnancy.

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