Introduction and description
Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea, in the family Brassicaceae.
Cauliflower is now cultivated all over the world, its origins are unknown. It is believed to have been cultivated as long ago as the 6th century BC and was possibly mentioned by Pliny in the 1st century AD, when he included a description of what he called cyma in his Natural History. In the 12th century, three varieties were described in Spain as introductions from Syria, where “it had doubtless been grown for more than a thousand years”. It is found in the writings of the Arab botanists Ibn al-'Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar, in the 12th and 13th centuries when its origins were said to be Cyprus.
They were introduced to France from Genoa in the 16th century, and are featured in Olivier de Serres' Théâtre de l'agriculture (1600), as cauli-fiori "as the Italians call it, which are still rather rare in France; they hold an honorable place in the garden because of their delicacy".
It was introduced in India in 1822 from England by the British. These days a large number of the cauliflowers grown in the UK are by allotment holders. They are also, in the North of England, another vegetable that is the subject of the giant vegetable competitions – for fun and not for food, as they are often a little tough.
These days China and India are the biggest commercial growers, with Spain, Mexico and Italy also producing significant though smaller amounts.
There are hundreds of historic and current commercial varieties used around the world with about 80 in North American alone, but all have the characteristic central ‘curd’ of various colours surrounded by protective leaves, with a short stalk. The cauliflower head is composed of a white ‘inflorescence meristem’. Cauliflower heads resemble those in broccoli, which differs in having flower buds. There are four major groups of cauliflower.
- Northern European annuals - Used in Europe and North America for summer and autumn harvest, it was developed in Germany in the 18th century, and includes the old cultivars Erfurt and Snowball.
- Northwest European biennial - Used in Europe for winter and early spring harvest, this was developed in France in the 19th century, and includes the old cultivars Angers and Roscoff.
- Asian - A tropical cauliflower used in China and India, it was developed in India during the 19th century from the now-abandoned Cornish type, and includes old varieties Early Benaras and Early Patna.
These then come in different colours
- White/cream - White cauliflower is the most common colour of cauliflower.
- Orange - Orange cauliflower (B. oleracea L. var. botrytis) contains 25% more vitamin A than white varieties. This trait originated from a natural mutant found in a cauliflower field in Canada. Cultivars include 'Cheddar' and 'Orange Bouquet'.
- Green - Green cauliflower, of the B. oleracea botrytis group, is found in the normal curd shape and with a fractal spiral curd called Romanesco broccoli. Both have been commercially available in the U.S. and Europe since the early 1990s. Green-curded varieties include 'Alverda', 'Green Goddess' and 'Vorda'. Romanesco varieties include 'Minaret' and 'Veronica'.
- Purple - The purple colour in this cauliflower is caused by the presence of the antioxidant group anthocyanins, which can also be found in red cabbage and red wine. Varieties include 'Graffiti' and 'Purple Cape'. Note that sprouting broccoli is sometimes mistakenly called purple cauliflower. They are not the same.
Cauliflowers are pricey to buy so if you can grow your own, it’s really worthwhile. They take up quite a bit of space, need rich, deep soil and need plenty of water, especially in summer, but they can be grown all year round.
Cauliflowers do best in very fertile soil, and digging in a bucketful of well-rotted manure or organic matter before planting, and raking in 150g per sq m of Growmore or other general purpose fertiliser, will help growth. Firm the soil by treading before planting.
If growth is checked, at any time during growth, they produce small, deformed heads. To avoid problems, water plants well the day before transplanting and make a hole deep enough to hold the plant with the lowest leaves at ground level. Fill this hole repeatedly with water. This will fill the hole with soil and ensure the plant is sitting in a large area of moist soil. Firm the soil very well against the roots.
Space summer and autumn cropping types 60cm (2ft) apart and winter cultivars around 75cm (2.5ft) apart; spacing of 30-45cm (12-18in) apart, provides mini, 'one person' curds.
Water well in dry weather, watering every 10 days, and apply sufficient water to thoroughly wet the root zone.
Pests and diseases
Whitefly - Cauliflowers can suffer from whitefly [see Brussel sprouts for an explanation and solutions]
Mildew – Cauliflowers may get various fungal infections and mildews – especially if not exposed to fresh breezes and in depleted soils. The solution is to enrich the soil and improve ventilation.
Caterpillars - A number of caterpillars will feed on brassicas, but the most common are those of cabbage white butterflies. You will usually see the caterpillars, if not, you will see the holes they make in the leaves. If you have only a few plants, you may be able to pick the caterpillars off, otherwise insect-proof mesh or fine netting (5-7mm mesh) can prevent egg-laying.
Club root - Like all brassicas, the other enemy is club root. Club root affects Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, swedes and radishes, and ornamental relatives such as Cheiranthus (wallflowers), Matthiola (stocks), Aubrieta (aubretia) and cabbage-family weeds such as Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd’s purse).
Club root is an infection of the roots of brassicas and related plants by Plasmodiophora brassicae, a soil-dwelling micro-organism related to the slime moulds, leading to massive swelling, distortion and severely retarded growth. Plasmodiophora brassicae produces resting spores that can contaminate soil for up to 20 years.
In the presence of susceptible plant roots, these resting spores germinate and infect the root hairs, causing the distortion. The fungus produces more resting spores in the affected tissue, which eventually rots and releases them back to the soil, ready for the cycle to start over again. Club root can infect whenever the soil is moist and warm, so most new infections occur from mid-summer until late autumn. You may see the following symptoms:
- Above ground: Stunted growth, purplish foliage and wilting in hot weather, which may recover under wetter conditions
- Below ground: The root system becomes massively swollen and distorted, with a loss of the finer roots
- Growth and yield are severely reduced and very badly affected plants may die
Control and prevention of club root - The following excellent list came straight from the Royal Horticultural society website:
- If you buy brassica plants, take great care that they come from a guaranteed club root-free source. Be particularly careful in accepting plants from gardening friends, who with the best of intentions may be an unwitting source of infection
- If the disease is known to be present, try to give plants a head start by growing them on in healthy soil to a larger than normal size before planting out, or as transplants in pots of at least 9cm (3½in) diameter, so that they begin growth in the affected soil with a larger than usual healthy root system
- Beware of spreading contaminated soil on tools, wheelbarrows or footwear
- Club root is reduced (but not eliminated) by raising the soil pH by liming. On acid soils, lime at the rate of 500g per sq m (15oz per sq yd), with lighter dressings of 270g per sq m (8oz per sq yd) in future years
- Along with the liming regime, take care to improve drainage, by making raised beds for example
- Keep down susceptible weeds like shepherd’s purse, charlock, wild radish
- Some cultivars show some levels of resistance: Brussels sprouts 'Chronos' and 'Crispus F1', calabrese ‘Trixie’, cauliflower ‘Clapton’, Cabbages ‘Kilaxy’ and ‘Kilaton’, kale ‘Tall Green Curled’ and swede ‘Marian’ also show resistance
Nutrition and medicinal uses
Cauliflower is a sort of super vegetable with benefits too many to list here. The observations below describe not only all the healing potential, but also - in the Dr Duke full analysis - all the vitamins and minerals.
Below: Spicy whole roasted cauliflower
Cauliflower is remarkably versatile as a vegetable. Both the leaves and the curds can be eaten and as such it is also very economical. Romanesco cauliflower, described above, is especially delicious and is immensely attractive. The leaves are edible, and should not be discarded.
It can be boiled or steamed as florets, or roasted whole. It can also be sliced and roasted or fried. Cauliflower can be added to a stir fry, or mashed with cheese and an egg, baked and used as a base for toppings – like a sort of vegetable pizza.
In Britain, we often eat cauliflower baked with cheese – cauliflower cheese, but in Italy it is baked as a Parmigiana with cream, cheese and anchovies- and this is very special.
If you have any cauliflower cheese left over, add some stock to it, puree it with a blender and you have a very nice soup. Swirl some double cream on the top and t is a meal fit for a king.
Cauliflower Gruyere Pie with Potato Crust and Bacon-Parmigiana Crumb Topping
Allegra McEvedy’s Whole roast cauliflower with cumin, sumac and lemon
2 small cauliflowers (each about 500g), outer leaves removed
1 Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Drizzle the cauliflowers liberally with oil, scatter with salt and sprinkle over the sumac and cumin.
2 Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, but turn the temperature down if the cauliflowers start to get too dark. They're cooked when they're lightly browned and an inserted skewer meets with just a little resistance.
3 Before serving, drizzle again with good quality olive oil and a fair squeeze of lemon, then scatter with parsley and a little more salt.
Broccoli and cauliflower salad
Arto Der Haroutunian’s Cauliflower and pear bake
This is a delicious vegetarian savoury dish. If you are gluten intolerant use gluten free bread for the breadcrumbs.
This recipe can be used with unripe pears in which case the pear slices should be poached in boiling water until just tender.
The original recipe has mushrooms in it, but we have found it is also nice without the mushrooms. Increase the amount of onion if you omit the mushrooms. Sweet onions are delicious in this recipe.
1 large cauliflower
1 Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower, chop into florets and wash. Drop them into a large pan of boiling water until just tender.
2 Drain and put the cauliflower, pears, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and breadcrumbs into a liquidiser and blend.
3 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and lightly grease a large baking dish. Pour a quarter of the cauliflower mixture into the dish. Cover with half of the red pepper and olive slices.
4 Now pour in another quarter of the cauliflower mixture and cover it with the mushrooms and onion.
5 Repeat a cauliflower layer and then add the remaining red pepper and olive slices. Top with the remaining cauliflower.
6 Bake for 30–45 minutes until the top is golden. Finally, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Margaret Shaida’s Persian Cauliflower omelette
This is a Persian kookoo recipe. The word is usually translated as omelette, but it more closely resembles a savoury vegetable cake, very much like a Spanish tortilla, and can be eaten hot or cold.
1 large cauliflower
1 Wash the cauliflower and cook in salted water. Mash and leave to cool.
2 Chop the onions and fry in a little oil until soft and golden. Stir in the turmeric and put aside to cool.
3 Wash and chop the parsley. When all the ingredients are cool, mix the cauliflower, flour, baking powder, onions and parsley.
4 Heat enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. While the oil heats, beat the eggs until frothy, then stir in the cauliflower mixture. Pour into the hot oil, then immediately reduce the heat, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 25 minutes until firm.
5 Turn over and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve immediately with mixed pickles and fresh herbs.
Cauliflower risotto (Risotto ai cavalfiori)
Once the risotto has been left for 2 minutes it should be eaten as soon as possible. Very crispy chopped bacon sprinkled over the top goes well with this dish, but if you are a vegetarian, you can sprinkle with some anchovy pangrattato, - made by whizzing breadcrumbs with anchovies, oil and a red chilli in a food processor then frying the flavoured breadcrumbs, stirring and tossing constantly until golden brown.
1 cauliflower, trimmed and chopped into florets, including the inner stalk
1 litre of good chicken [or vegetable] stock
Large knob of Butter
2 onions finely chopped
5 cloves garlic finely chopped
4 sticks celery sliced
1 cup Arborio [risotto] rice
1 glass white wine [or vermouth]
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ lb butter
Heat the stock and add the cauliflower florets, then leave to simmer.
In a separate wide high sided frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic, celery, and chopped cauliflower stalk and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring.
When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and coat with oil, fry until just slightly translucent.
Add the vermouth or wine and keep stirring.
Once the vermouth or wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer.
Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.
By the time the rice is half-cooked, the cauliflower florets should be quite soft, add them to the risotto with the stock, crushing them into the rice as you go.
Continue until the rice is cooked and all the cauliflower has been added.
Remove from the heat and add more butter and Parmesan and stir in the parsley.
Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes.
Jamie Oliver’s Potato & cauliflower curry
Serve this curry immediately with a bowl of creamy yoghurt on the side and some chutneys.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions , sliced
4 cloves of garlic , chopped
6cm piece of ginger , peeled and chipped
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 tomatoes , chopped finely
6 curry leaves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 kg floury potatoes thickly diced
1-2 green chillies , deseeded and sliced
1 large cauliflower , cut into florets
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic and ginger, stirring, for 6–8 minutes, until softened. With a slotted spoon, remove the onion mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Toast the mustard and cumin seeds in a dry pan over a medium heat for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
Put tomatoes, curry leaves, toasted spices and remaining spices in the saucepan. Cook for a 5 minutes over a medium heat.
Add the reserved onion mixture, potatoes and chillies and season with salt and pepper.
Pour in about 600ml water, or enough to just cover the mixture. Bring to a simmer over a low heat, cover with a lid and continue to simmer for 8–10 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and cook for another 8–10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the potatoes and cauliflower are tender.
Nigella Lawson’s Warm Spiced Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad With Pomegranate Seeds
Although this dish, as Nigella describes, it uses pomegranate seeds, it is actually nice without too. This can be eaten hot or cold. It goes well with crumbled Lancashire cheese.
1 small cauliflower, trimmed and divided into florets
3 tablespoons regular olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
250 grams home-cooked chickpeas (or drained weight from 400g/14oz can or jar)
2 tablespoons harissa paste (according to taste and the heat of the harissa)
4 smallish ripe vine tomatoes (approx. 150g/6oz total)
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (or to taste)
4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
large bunch fresh flatleaf parsley (approx.100g/2 1/2 cups)
Preheat the oven to 220ºC /gas mark 7/425ºF.
Pour the oil into a large bowl, add the cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir or whisk to help the spices disperse.
Tip in the prepared cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour the contents of the bowl into a small oven tray and place in the oven for 15 minutes.
Put the chickpeas into the bowl, add the harissa to taste and toss to coat.
Quarter the tomatoes and add them to the bowl, and shake or stir to mix.
When the cauliflower has had its 15 minutes, tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower, and toss to combine before returning to the oven for a further 15 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
When it’s ready, remove from the oven and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, then toss to combine with half of the pomegranate seeds before dividing between 2 bowls. Divide the parsley leaves – without chopping them – between the 2 bowls and toss to mix. Scatter with the remaining pomegranate seeds.
Parmesan roasted cauliflower
Based on a Jamie Oliver recipe.
1 red chilli , seeded and chopped
1 small bunch fresh coriander
1 small tin coconut cream
1 small head cauliflower cut into florets
1 splash vegetable oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 large pinch asafoetida
12 curry leaves , pulled off their stalk
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
4 medium-sized potatoes , peeled and cut into chunks
1 big handful frozen peas
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add your cauliflower. Bring back to the boil for 1 minute, then remove the florets with a slotted spoon and leave in a colander. Keep the cauliflower water.
Heat a wide pan big enough to hold all the ingredients at once. Add a good splash of vegetable oil and when it’s hot, add the mustard seeds, the asafoetida, the curry leaves and turmeric. Fry for a few seconds then add the diced potatoes, the coconut cream and just enough cauliflower water to cover then add salt.
Cover with a lid and simmer gently until the potatoes are just cooked. Add the peas, chillies and cauliflower florets, stir and replace the lid.
Cook over a gentle heat until everything is cooked and soft, and the liquid has reduced.
Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve.
Cauliflower & broccoli cheese
Loosely based on a recipe by Jamie Oliver – as he says “It’s really good fun to play around with different cheeses in this dish and how they taste and melt”. Gorgonzola works especially well as does stilton.
Very strong French cheeses are also good. Comté for example – better known as Gruyère is a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. If you use this a little nutmeg can be added.
More vegetables can be added to this dish – but you always need to cube and boil them– for instance, celeriac, squash, potatoes and leeks “all work a treat”.
2 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
¼ lb salted butter
2 tablespoons cornflour or potato flour dissolved in milk
1 pint creamy milk
½ lb broccoli florets
½ lb mature cheddar cheese or any other very strong flavoured cheese - grated
1lb cauliflower florets
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ cup flaked almonds toasted
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Fry the garlic on a medium heat in the butter.
Cook the cauliflower in salted water until just tender.
Arrange the cauliflower in an appropriately sized baking dish, add the garlic.
Cook the broccoli until very soft. Drain and puree using a hand held blender
Boil the milk, then gradually add the cornflour, whisking as you go, until lovely and smooth. Add half the cheese and the broccoli puree.
Pour this over the cauliflower in the baking dish.
Mix thyme leaves, toasted almonds and remaining cheese together. Sprinkle over the cauliflower and broccoli mixture.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until golden and cooked through
David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Quinoa, cauliflower and ramsons cakes
Ramsons are wild garlic – it is the leaves that are eaten, which is why they are used in this recipe. If you cannot find ramsons, or they are not in season, use fresh spinach and add two cloves of crushed garlic.
Place 500ml water, the quinoa and some salt in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and gently simmer for about 15 minutes, or until you see small tails on the quinoa seeds. Drain any excess water and set aside to cool.
Place the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until it forms a rice-like texture. Tip into a bowl, together with the quinoa, ramsons, eggs, feta, oats and seasoning. Stir until well combined. Place in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.
Take the mixture and form into 12 patties with your hands. Heat the ghee or oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Add four patties at a time and fry for about 3–4 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip carefully and fry the other side for 2–3 minutes more.
Continue until all the patties are fried. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm or cold.
- Cauliflower Nutrients from USDA database 007161
- Dr Duke's list of Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Brassica oleracea var. botrytis l. var. botrytis L. (Brassicaceae) -- Cauliflower 022873
- Dr Duke's list of mercury chelating plants 017825
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing ARGININE 017958
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing GLYCINE 017955
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing HISTIDINE 019061
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing LYSINE 017957
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing NICKEL 021500
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing PHENYLALANINE 017936
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing PROLINE 017956
- Dr Duke's list of Plants Containing QUERCETIN 021446
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SALICYLIC ACID 020467
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SELENIUM 020550
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SULFUR 021408
- Dr Duke's list of plants to help with Crohn's disease 017765
- Dr Duke's list of plants to help with Fibromyalgia 018231
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antianxiety activity 018342
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiarrhythmic activity 018344
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiarteriosclerotic activity 018345
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiarthritic activity 018346
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiasthmatic activity 018347
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiasthmatic Activity 018412
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiatherogenic and Antiatheroscleroticactivity 018349
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiatherosclerotic Activity 018414
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticalculic activity 018361
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (colon) activity 018455
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (forestomach) activity 018458
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (liver) activity 018461
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (lung) activity 018462
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticancer (skin) activity 018466
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticataract activity 018378
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticervicaldysplasic activity 018364
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- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticolitic activity 018436
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticrohn's activity 018435
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidepressant activity 018472
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidiabetic activity 018473
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidote (Aluminum) Activity of high potency 018327
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidote (Lead) activity 018377
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antidysmenorrheic Activity 018474
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antieczemic activity 018421
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiglaucomic activity 019952
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antihemorrhagic activity 018446
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiherpetic activity 018391
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antihypertensive activity 018444
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antilupus activity 018440
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with AntiMS activity 019578
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antimyocarditic activity 018437
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antineuralgia activity 019580
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiosteoarthritic activity 018447
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiosteoporotic activity 018449
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antipapillomic Activity from multiple chemicals 018899
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with AntiPMS Activity 018419
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antipolyneuritic activity 022051
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antirhinitic Activity 019885
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Copper chelator activity 018387
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Metal chelating ability from FERULIC ACID - PART 1 018253
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Metal-chelator activity 018064
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Neuroprotective activity 019583
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Vulnerary activity 018927
- Dr Duke's list of the top 20 plants containing Vitamin C 017964
- Dr Duke's top 40 plants containing Boron 017974
- Dr Dukes list of plants with high Antiestrogenic activity 017912
- Dr Dukes list of plants with high Estrogenic activity 017911