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, we recommend 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. A more optimal intake amount would be 1-1/2 cups per day, or about 10 cups per week. You can use our Veggie Advisor for help in figuring out your best cruciferous vegetable options.
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 teaspoon of turmeric when adding the cauliflower to the skillet.
Perhaps because the most commonly consumed varieties of cauliflower are white, many people may not associate cauliflower with the same nutrient richness as its fellow green cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale. This perspective on cauliflower does not match up with the research findings on this amazing food. White varieties of cauliflower are just as rich in phytonutrients as green cruciferous vegetables, and this nutrient richness is exemplified by its glucosinolates, described below.
The phytonutrients provided by cauliflower are headed off by its glucosinolates. These sulfur-containing compounds are well studied and known to provide a variety of health benefits. The glucosinolates best studied in cauliflower include:
Glucosinolates are the subject of increasing health research, and the more that is learned about glucosinolates, the broader scientists see their role in supporting our body systems. The list of body systems supported by intake of glucosinolates from cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables has now come to include our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, inflammatory, and detoxification systems. For in-depth information about glucosinolates and health support, see our article, Feeling Great with Cruciferous Vegetables.
Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower's key antioxidant phytonutrients. An emphatic addition to this list would be vitamin C since cauliflower is our 10th best source of vitamin C among all 100 WHFoods. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is also a very good source of manganese—a mineral antioxidant that is especially important in oxygen-related metabolism.
Recent research has begun to investigate the relationship between cauliflower's overall antioxidant capacity and its sulfur-containing glucosinolates. The glucosinolates in cauliflower appear to have an important relationship with its antioxidant capacity, although scientists are not yet sure about the exact role that glucosinolates play in this regard.
A final note about cauliflower antioxidants: the Graffiti variety of purple cauliflower has been the subject of several recent research studies and has been shown to have especially strong antioxidant capacity due to its rich concentration of anthocyanins. If you decide to incorporate purple cauliflower into your meal plan, we recommend that you be extra careful to avoid overcooking it. Research studies on anthocyanins in cauliflower have shown that the greatest proportion of these antioxidant pigments is found in the outermost layers of the cauliflower head and this location makes them especially susceptible to loss from overcooking.
Intake of cauliflower has been analyzed in relationship to a variety of different disease risks. When consumed at least once per week, cauliflower has been associated with decreased risk of colorectal cancer and has been shown to be associated with a greater decrease of risk than broccoli (when consumed in a comparable amount). In terms of prostate cancer risk, cauliflower and broccoli have shown a similar ability to decrease risk. While we have not seen individual studies focused exclusively on the relationship between cauliflower and cardiovascular diseases, cauliflower has been included along with other cruciferous vegetables (most commonly broccoli and cabbage) in studies on cardiovascular diseases and has been repeatedly associated with decreased risk. Because of its ability to bind bile acids, intake of cooked cauliflower has also been linked to better regulation of blood cholesterol. In one study focusing on intake of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts in middle-aged women, incidence of obesity was reduced when women in the study increased their servings over time by about 3 servings per day.
Studies show strong nutrient richness in both raw and cooked cauliflower. We've been impressed by study results not only in areas involving conventional nutrients like vitamin C but also in areas involving phytonutrients like sulfur-containing compounds and flavonoids. Although there can be loss of water-soluble nutrients during cooking with water or other liquids, there can also be increased bioavailability from the freeing up of nutrients that remained inside the cells in raw cauliflower but got released from those cells during cooking due to the breakdown of cell walls. For example, we've seen studies showing increased bioavailability of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin following the cooking of cauliflower. Of course, since the chewing of raw cauliflower could also serve to break down cell walls and make carotenoids more bioavailable, what we end up with here is a "win-win" situation in which both raw and cooked cauliflower can make great nutrient contributions to our health.
This same "win-win" situation appears to hold true for cauliflower's sulfur-containing compounds. For example, studies have shown that levels of sinigrin—one of the best-studied glucosinolates in cauliflower—decrease as a result of both steaming and boiling. However, alongside of this decrease in sinigrin is significantly improved bioavailability of the sinigrin that still remains inside the cooked cauliflower.
One final note on temperature and the health benefits of cauliflower. A recent study on the freezing of cauliflower has shown its nutrients to be fairly stable after one-year freezer storage. Cauliflower in the study was blanched in near-boiling water for three minutes prior to freezing for one year. Numerous phytonutrients were evaluated in the study, including cauliflower's sulfur-containing compounds. While nutrients levels were typically reduced after this year of freezer storage, loss of nutrients typically averaged about 15-35%. Although we strongly support purchase of fresh vegetables—including cauliflower—whenever possible, frozen cauliflower may make a second-best option in some meal plans.
While many people recognize cauliflower as a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, this popular plant is more closely connected with its fellow "crucifers" than people might realize. Cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli all belong to the same genus and species of plant (Brassica oleracea) and this degree of commonality among popular plant foods is somewhat unusual. While the traditional family name for this group of foods is "cruciferous vegetables," many scientists are tending away from the science name Crucifereae for this plant family and more toward the name Brassicaceae. So you will also hear cauliflower being referred to as not only a "cruciferous" vegetable but a "brassica" vegetable as well. (In Latin, the word "brassica" means "cabbage.")
In the U.S., most cauliflower varieties have been selected for their formation of a fairly large compact head (which is also called the "curd"). The cauliflower head is actually a closely packed arrangement of undeveloped flower buds. Surrounding the curd are ribbed, coarse green leaves that help shield this part of the plant from sunlight. This shielding of the cauliflower head also discourages the development of chlorophyll in the head and is one of the reasons that this portion of the plant is typically not bright green in color. (That being said, there are green varieties of cauliflower available in the marketplace.) The raw cauliflower head tends to be firm yet slightly spongy in texture and can have a slightly sulfur-like flavor, which some people also describe as faintly bitter. However, it is also common for people to describe the cauliflower flavor as nutty and slightly sweet.
Cauliflower and broccoli are so closely related that some naturally occurring varieties of cauliflower are often referred to by both names. Romanesco cauliflower—also called romanesco broccoli—is a perfect example. This variety of Brassica oleracea has a flavor somewhere in between cauliflower and broccoli and a highly distinct appearance in which the compact cauliflower head rises upward in a tree-like or pyramidal shape. Romanesco cauliflower is also sometimes referred to as broccoflower, but this name is more commonly used to refer to yet different cultivars of cauliflower with a green head (or curd). As you can see, it is sometimes difficult to clearly differentiate between cauliflower and broccoli due to the strong biological overlap between these foods. It's also interesting to note that in most market analyses of broccoli imports and exports, the two foods are grouped together into a single category.
Color can be a very practical way of separating different varieties of cauliflower into basic types. The chart below shows basic color groupings for cauliflower and specific varieties that belong to each group.
|Cloud||Green Macerata||Purple of Sicily||Sunset|
Cauliflower is generally thought to be native to the general Mediterranean region, especially the northeastern portion of this region in what is now the country of Turkey. Its history here dates back over 2,000 years. It's interesting to note that varieties of cauliflower were not always selected to include a large, compact head (or "curd") and that in many regions of the world, cauliflower crops still do not focus on those varieties. "Loose curd" cauliflower, for example, is widely enjoyed in many areas of China. Roughly speaking, "loose curd" cauliflower can be considered as comparable to broccoli raab—a form of broccoli that also lacks a large compact head and features longer stems and leaves.
Among cruciferous vegetables in general, cauliflower is not nearly as popular in the U.S. as in other parts of the world. While the U.S. is the world's largest producer of broccoli, when it comes to cauliflower, it is not remotely close to China or India, which produce 74% of the world's cauliflower. Given the remarkable nutritional benefits of cauliflower, we hope that this pattern will change over time and the cauliflower will become a more widely enjoyed cruciferous vegetable.
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.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and cauliflower is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including cauliflower. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells cauliflower but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown cauliflower is very likely to be cauliflower that display the USDA organic logo
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.
Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating cauliflower. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition:exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
Puree cooked cauliflower, add fennel seeds and your other favorite herbs and spices and serve as soup.
Because of its shape and taste, cauliflower florets make wonderful crudite for dipping in sauces.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare cauliflower the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
You may sometimes hear cauliflower being described as a food that contains "goitrogens," or as a food that is "goitrogenic." For helpful information in this area—including our WHFoods Recommendations—please see our article What is meant by the term "goitrogen" and what is the connection between goitrogens, food, and health?.
GI: very low
|vitamin C||54.93 mg||73||46.2||excellent|
|vitamin K||17.11 mcg||19||12.0||excellent|
|pantothenic acid||0.63 mg||13||8.0||excellent|
|vitamin B6||0.21 mg||12||7.8||excellent|
|choline||48.48 mg||11||7.2||very good|
|fiber||2.68 g||11||6.8||very good|
|omega-3 fats||0.21 g||9||5.5||very good|
|manganese||0.16 mg||8||5.0||very good|
|phosphorus||39.68 mg||6||3.6||very good|
|biotin||1.61 mcg||5||3.4||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.06 mg||5||2.9||good|
|vitamin B1||0.05 mg||4||2.6||good|
|vitamin B3||0.51 mg||3||2.0||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%