Cauliflower, as its name suggests, is indeed a flower. It grows from a plant that in its early stages resembles broccoli, its closest relative. However, while broccoli opens outward to sprout bunches of green florets, cauliflower forms a compact head of undeveloped white flower buds. The head—known as the curd—is surrounded by heavily ribbed green leaves that protect it from sunlight, so the flower buds don’t develop chlorophyll. With some types of cauliflower, however, the head pokes through the leaves and the grower periodically will tie the leaves over the head to shield it from the sun. Otherwise, exposure to sunlight would discolor the florets and also cause them to develop an undesirable flavor.
Cauliflower is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. It gradually made its way west, arriving in parts of Europe in the early 1500s. Cauliflower arrived in the United States surprisingly recently. Some botanical historians say cauliflower was not cultivated for commercial purposes in this country until as late as the 1900s.
Types of Cauliflower
In addition to the widely available white cauliflower, you can also find orange, green, and purple versions.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin B6 and folate, another B vitamin. A substantial amount of both vitamin C and the B vitamins in cauliflower can be lost if the vegetable is cooked in too much water or for too long. The vitamin C is diminished by heat, and the B vitamins, because they are water-soluble, leach into the cooking water. For the highest vitamin C content, it’s best to eat cauliflower uncooked. But for cooked cauliflower, steaming is best. If you do cook cauliflower in water, consider saving the water for soup or stock to conserve the B vitamins.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is rich in phytochemical compounds, including isothiocyanates and indoles, that research suggests help protect against disease when part of a healthy diet.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Cauliflower in the National Nutrient Database.
Cauliflower and vitamin K interactions
Cauliflower contains vitamin K, which is best known for its crucial role in bone health and blood clotting. People who take blood-thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) are sometimes told to avoid foods high in vitamin K, including chard, collards, kale, mustard greens, and spinach. In fact, they don’t need to shun these vegetables. It’s more important to keep a consistent diet, and eat these vegetables moderately. If you take blood-thinners, the National Institutes of Health suggests eating no more than ½ cup a day of chard, collards, kale, mustard greens, or spinach. Cauliflower has about an eighth of the vitamin K as spinach and a sixth as much as kale.
Newer anticoagulants such as dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and apixaban (Eliquis), are not affected by vitamin K.
8 Recipe Ideas for Cauliflower
Raw cauliflower is a great snack, but this tasty vegetable also makes a delectable side dishes and soup.
Published September 28, 2015