“A cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.” –Mark Twain
Introduction to Cauliflower
Regardless of the name, it is a vegetable and not a flower, belonging to the Brassica Oleraces species in the family of Brassicaceae. It is closely related to broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale, which are also members of this species. Its name is derived from the Latin word “caulis” meaning cabbage with addition of flower. The name is in reference to the family known for producing only leafy greens for consumption.
The vegetable begins its development as a single condensed head, which is in reality an immature white flower bud, and reaches a size of seven to ten inches when fully developed. The head is also at times referred to as a “curd” due to the similarity in looks with the curds in lumpy milk. It has a mellow sweet, nutty taste, and almost all parts of the plant are edible. The stalks, green leaves and the head, but most people only use the heads. The dense leaves surrounding the head keep it enclosed and protect it from direct sunlight. The lack of light prevents green chlorophyll from developing so this keeps the head a pure white colour.
The vegetable is cultivated in all parts of the world with new varieties being developed constantly. While the most commonly used variety is white, purple and green cultivars are also available.
History of Cauliflower
Cauliflower is believed to have originated in Asia as a wild cabbage, but was actually bred first by Mediterranean farmers about 2500 years ago. It was known as “Syrian Cabbage” for the longest time due to being wide spread in Syria, Persia, and Egypt. The Egyptians were growing it around 400 B.C.E. and the Romans also grew it.
Arabs appreciated cauliflower for its food value and pleasant taste. As the Arab Empire expanded, the vegetable landed in Spain, where it immediately became popular. At roughly around the same time it was introduced to Cyprus by the Syrians, from where it spread into Europe. Until about the late 1500s, cultivation of cauliflower was limited to the Italian peninsula. It was introduced to France in the sixteenth century, where it was highly valued by the court of Louis XIV. It was also appreciated in Brittany. Menon, an 18th century food writer recommended serving cauliflower in a sauce made with veal, ham and cream as an addition to stew of sweetbreads and mushrooms.
The nutritious veggie made its way to North America in the 1600s, but commercial development did not start until around the 1920s. It has since grown to become a part of the staple diet all around the globe. In the period between 2001 – 2011 commercial sales dropped by 35% in the UK, so cultivators started the development of brightly coloured varieties to sell in mixed rainbow pickings’ to revive interests.
Health Benefits of Cauliflower
Cauliflower is not one of the better studied cruciferous vegetables from a health viewpoint. However there are a number of studies linking cauliflower supplemented diets with prevention of cancer. In particular bladder, breast, colon, prostate and ovarian cancers are targeted by this vegetable. This cancer-fighting ability is due to cauliflower’s nutrient content that supports three of the body’s systems that have close relation with cancer development. The three systems are the detox system, antioxidant system and inflammatory system. Extensive imbalance in any one of these systems increases risks of cancer development. Problems with all three at the same time will only increase the chances of disease.
Cauliflower contains phytonutrients known as glucosinolates that trigger detoxification enzymes and standardize their activity. The three active glucosinolates found in cauliflower are glucobrassicin, glucoraphanin, and gluconasturtiian. Failing to provide the body with appropriate detox support and yet continuing the consumption of damaging substances due to existing life styles increases the incidence of cancer.
Vitamin C and manganese are two of the main antioxidants found in cauliflower. Cauliflower goes beyond the basics and contains additional antioxidants like beta-carotene, ferulic acid, beta-cryptoxanthing, caffeic acid, quercetin, rutin, cinnamic acid, and kaempferol. The combined antioxidant support reduces cell stress by cutting down on damage to the cells caused by harmful molecules. This in turn reduces risks of various cancers.
The glucobrassicin in cauliflower can also be converted to an isothiocyanate compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is an anti-inflammatory molecule working at the genetic level to eliminate the development of inflammation at its earliest stages. The vitamin K behaves as a direct controller of the body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation increases risks of cancers and other chronic diseases like cardiovascular issues.
The fibre content in cauliflower supports the digestive system. Additionally the sulforaphane created from the glucosinolates found in cauliflower protect the stomach’s lining by inhibiting the overgrowth of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the stomach and limiting its ability to adhere to the stomach’s lining. Other potential benefits of cauliflower include keeping a check on diseases like Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, insulin resistance, and ulcerative colitis.
In addition to having a high content of fibre and protein, cauliflower is low in fat. Just a hundred gram serving of raw cauliflower provides 1.9 grams of protein and 2 grams of dietary fibre. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that means you get 5 percent of the recommended daily allowance of fibre and 3 percent of the protein. This same quantity contains 5 grams of carbohydrates (1% of daily allowance), no cholesterol and only 25 calories.
Cauliflower is well endowed in the vitamin and mineral department as well. It contains vitamin C, K, folate, B-1, B-3, B-5, B-6, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, molybdenum, and manganese. The B vitamins are essential to the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats, while the minerals play an important role for intracellular electrolyte balance, and as co-factors for antioxidant enzymes.
Uses of Cauliflower
Cauliflower can be used in a number of ways. To prepare the veggie turn it upside down after washing it thoroughly and remove the stem just at the base where the florets all come together. Proceed to separate the florets into roughly equal sized pieces, cutting when the need to maintain the equal size arises. Now the pieces may be served raw, or cooked as desired.
Rapid cooking of the vegetable cuts down on the odour causing sulphur compounds, maintains crispness, colour and minimizes the loss of nutrients. Over cooking allows nutrients to trickle into the cooking water and wasting them. Steaming and microwaving best preserve the nutrient content. Cauliflower can turn yellow in alkaline water. To prevent this, a tablespoon of lemon juice can be added to water. Also, cooking in an aluminium or iron pot can cause the vegetable to change colour as the molecules in the cauliflower react with the metal. An iron pot will give the cauliflower brown or bluish-green colour.
A few ways to enjoy cauliflower include:
- In a salad or as slaw – similar to it cousin cabbage, cauliflower make great addition to salads. One example is to mix it with white beans and fennel and top with a dressing of choice.
- Roasted – Roast the cut up pieces of cauliflower in an oven by lightly brushing with olive oil and seasoning with herbs of choice until crisp. It compliments any main course or on its own as a mid-meal snack.
- Mashed – A great alternative to mashed potatoes. Just steam and mash with a little coconut milk for a semi-sweet dish or use plain milk and add seasoning and herbs according to taste.
According to some studies the sulforaphanes in cauliflower have been found to be effectual chemo-protective agents. They provide protection against development of tumours in the “post-initiation” stage. Initial studies indicate that cauliflowers may reduce the overall risk of cancer in particular colon and prostate.
Use of cauliflower extracts in studies have shown a noteworthy rise in scavenging activity of free radicals, and inhibition of lipid peroxidation. The antioxidant activity is proportionally related to the phenolic content. Workers at Göteborg University, Sweden, found cauliflower to be among the vegetables with the greatest content of plant sterols. These compounds are known to lower the serum cholesterol. Thus a greater dietary consumption of cauliflower can produce a positive impact on health.