Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables are famous for their strikingly high concentration of cancer-fighting chemicals called glucosinolates. When you eat cruciferous vegetables, glucosinolates are broken down by bacteria in the digestive tract and transformed into active compounds called isothiocynates.
Isothiocyanates help eliminate cancer-causing substances by regulating the liver's detoxification enzymes. A large body of evidence suggests that a regular intake of cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, helps guard against many types of cancer including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lung, bladder, colorectal, prostate and breast cancers.
Cauliflower does more than add cancer-fighting phytochemicals to your meal. It's also a great source of vitamin C: One cup of cooked cauliflower delivers a full day's worth! Cauliflower also delives fibre, folate, calcium and potassium.
Nutrient breakdown of raw cauliflower, per 1 cup serving:
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release, April 2018
The most commonly eaten cauliflower is white, but you can also buy purple cauliflower and orange cauliflower. Purple cauliflower cooks faster than white cauliflower and has a milder taste. When cooked, its colour changes from purple to green.
Orange cauliflower is a relatively new variety that was first discovered in Canada. Its bright orange colour means it's a good source of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
Broccoflower is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It looks like cauliflower except it is light, bright green in colour. When cooked, it's tastes very similar to broccoli.
Choose cauliflower with thick, compact, heads of creamy white florets. The florets, or bud clusters, should not be loose or separated. A head of cauliflower should be heavy for its size and the leaves surrounding it should be bright green and show no signs of wilting.
Avoid cauliflower that's blemished or whose florets have started to turn brown, which is a sign the head is getting old. Check the bottom of cauliflower head - if it is soft, it's no longer fresh. If the florets have started to flower, the cauliflower is over ripe.
Store unwashed cauliflower, stem side down, in an open plastic bag or perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. Storing cauliflower stem side down prevents excess moisture from developing in the floret clusters, which causes it to spoil more quickly. Cauliflower will keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.
Pre-cut cauliflower loses its freshness and nutrients (vitamin C, folate) faster; it keeps for up to 2 days. Cauliflower that's been blanched and then frozen will keep for up to one year.
Leftover cooked cauliflower can be stored for two to three days.
Fresh cauliflower is best enjoyed from June through November, its peak season in Canada. All parts of the plant are edible and make good additions to soups and stocks.
Cauliflower should not be washed until it is going to be cooked or eaten. First, remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower head. Then remove the stalk from the head by cutting around it with a sharp knife. When the stalk is removed, the core with the florets attached will be remaining.
Remove the florets by cutting each cluster from the core, leaving a little stem with each cluster. If the florets are larger than needed, cut each into smaller uniform pieces. Rinse the florets well in cold water. You may also soak them in salt water or vinegar water to help force any insects that might be lodged within the florets.
To retain flavour and minimize nutrient loss, cook cauliflower quickly by steaming or roasting in a hot (400 to 450 F) oven for 10-15 minutes. Over-cooking causes cauliflower to release sulfurous compounds that produce an unpleasant odor and bitter taste. (You'll also lose more phytochemicals.)
Check the "doneness" of cauliflower by pricking it with a fork a few minutes before the suggested cooking time is up. If it's fork-tender but still slightly firm, it's ready to eat.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy
- Add a handful of cauliflower florets to an omelet or frittata.
- Toss carrot, cauliflower, apple and ginger into a juicer for an antioxidant-rich start to your day.
- Puree cooked cauliflower along with your favourite herbs and spices for a quick and nutritious soup. Add to vegetable or chicken stock.
- Add a handful of cauliflower florets to a store-bought or homemade soup when you bring it to a simmer on the stove.
- Use the leaves and stems of cauliflower in soup stocks.
- Add raw cauliflower florets to your next green salad.
- Add a serving of raw cauliflower to your brown bag lunch to increase your vegetable intake.
- Sauté cauliflower with minced garlic, ginger and a touch of soy sauce for an Asian-inspired side dish.
- Increase the antioxidant content of cauliflower by sautéing it with a dash of turmeric, a potent antioxidant.
- Sprinkle cauliflower florets with cayenne, extra virgin olive oil and a touch of salt and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 F for a spicy side dish.
- Serve steamed cauliflower dusted with grated Parmesan cheese or grated cheddar cheese.
- Mash cooked cauliflower with a little butter or chicken stock as a low-carb substitute for mashed potatoes.
- Add cauliflower florets to your favorite curry recipe.
- Roast cauliflower with parboiled potatoes and carrots in oven for 5-7 minutes at 450 F.
- Make a veggie platter with cauliflower florets, cucumber slices, celery and carrots sticks with your favourite dip.
Did you know that?
- The compact head of a cauliflower called a "curd".
- Cauliflower lacks green chlorophyll because the leaves of the plant shield it from the sun.
For more information visit The World's Healthiest Foods.