Cauliflower is a regular fixture at this time of year so I put together an ‘all you need to know’ fact sheet:
Cauliflower is a member of the Brassica oleracea family, descended, along with broccoli, kale, modern cabbage and brussel sprouts, from a wild mustard ancestor, native to the Mediterranean. This mustard was initially bred to be shorter and produce the bunched heads of leaves that we call cabbage. From here, selective breeding lead to the many varieties of vegetable that we know today.
The English name for cabbage may be derived from the old Norman word caboche, which means ‘head’. Meanwhile, the Latin term for head was Capus, which is thought to have lead to Caulis, meaning ‘cabbage’. Caulis flower is literally cabbage flower. Cauliflower is similar to its close relative broccoli, in that it is the flower of a descendant of the cabbage plant. However, it differs from broccoli in that it lacks flower buds. It has been selectively bred for thousands of years so that it bears little resemblance to its wild ancestor. The white part that we eat is called the ‘curd’, and has been selected to be large and dense. Interestingly, lesser-known varieties of cauliflower come in green, purple and orange!
Cauliflower is a cold weather crop, so in NSW it’s seasonal throughout winter and into the spring. Once the temperature gets too high though, it becomes harder for farmers to maintain high quality in their crop. This season we’re putting cauliflower on a regular three-week rotation for all the Food Connect boxes, though wholesale customers can order it anytime.
Cauliflower is highly nutritious and is an excellent addition to your diet. It is very high in vitamin C, folic acid (B vitamins) and vitamin K. It’s also a high source of dietary fibre. Cauliflower also has a number of sulphur-containing phyto-nutrients that are thought to provide powerful protection against cancer.
Along with all its brassica cousins, those sulphur compounds are also responsible for that characteristic cabbagy smell. The longer you store a cauliflower for, the more those phyto-nutrients break down and the more sulphur they release, meaning old cauliflower smells stronger! To keep your cauliflower at its freshest for longest, store it upside-down in the fridge, preferably in the crisper or in a plastic bag. Upside-down means that water droplets are less likely to gather on the curd, which can be conducive to mould formation.
The sulphur release is also a consideration when cooking – the longer that you cook cauliflower for then the more sulphur gets released. The most common mistake made when cooking cauliflower is to overcook it. If preparing it on its own, the best thing is to steam it. It should still be firm and crisp when you eat it (cooking time will vary, depending upon how big you cut the florets). Its also worth remembering that the longer you cook it for, the more of its great nutrients break down and are lost. For this reason, many people eat cauliflower raw in order to maximise its nutrient benefits. Try it as a crudite with a dip such as humus. Another option is in a stir fry, allowing it to be served hot but essentially still raw on the inside! If you are going for the rawer options we recommend doing so earlier in the week, when the cauliflower is freshest.