Oct 17 - 23, 2011

Cauliflower is a cool season crop, closely related to broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, and mustard. It is more exacting in its climatic requirements than most other crops in this family. It grows best in a comparatively cool temperature with a moist atmosphere.

Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea, in the family Brassicaceae. It is an annual plant that reproduces by seed. Typically, only the head (the white curd) of aborted floral meristems is eaten, while the stalk and surrounding thick, green leaves are used in vegetable broth or discarded. Cauliflower, a cruciferous vegetable, is in the same plant family as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and collards. It has a compact head (called a "curd"), with an average size of six inches in diameter, composed of undeveloped flower buds.

Its name is from Latin caulis (cabbage) and flower an acknowledgment of its unusual place among a family of food plants, which normally produce only leafy greens for eating.

Brassica oleracea also includes cabbage, kale, broccoli, and collard greens, though they are of different cultivar groups. Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have originated in ancient Asia Minor, which resembles kale or collards more than the vegetable that we now know it to be. The cauliflower went through many transformations and reappeared in the Mediterranean region, where it has been an important vegetable in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C. It gained popularity in France in the mid-16th century and was subsequently cultivated in Northern Europe and the British Isles. The United States, France, Italy, India, and China are countries that produce significant amounts of cauliflower. Cauliflower and broccoli are the same species and have very similar structures, though cauliflower replaces the green flower buds with a white inflorescence meristem.

There are four major groups of cauliflower.

Italian: Diverse in appearance, and biennial and annual in type, this group includes white, Romanesco, various green, purple, brown and yellow cultivars. This type is the ancestral form from which the others were derived.

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 Roscoff and Angers.

Northern European annuals: Used in Europe and North America for summer and fall harvest, it was developed in Germany in the 18th century, and includes old cultivars Erfurt and Snowball.

Asia: A tropical cauliflower used in China, Pakistan and India was developed in India during the 19th century.

The cauliflowers grow in different colors and these are:

White: White cauliflower is the most common color of cauliflower.

Orange: Orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of vitamin A of white varieties. This trait came from a natural mutant found in a cauliflower field in Canada. Cultivars include 'Cheddar' and 'Orange Bouquet'.

Green: Green cauliflower is sometimes called broccoflower. It is available both with the normal curd shape and a variant spiky curd called Romanesco broccoli. Both types 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: Purple color in 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'.

In Great Britain and southern Italy, a broccoli with tiny flower buds is sold as a vegetable under the name "purple cauliflower". It is not the same as standard cauliflower with a purple curd.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and fiber. It is a very good source of vitamin B5, vitamin B6, omega-3 fatty acids, and manganese. Additionally, it is a good source of potassium, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and magnesium. Sulforaphane, a compound released when cauliflower is chopped or chewed, may protect against cancer. Indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that enhances DNA repair and acts as an estrogen antagonist, slowing the growth of cancer cells.

While cauliflower is not a well-studied cruciferous vegetable from a health standpoint, you will find several dozen studies linking cauliflower-containing diets to cancer prevention, particularly with respect to the following types of cancer: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

This connection between cauliflower and cancer prevention should not be surprising, since cauliflower provides special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body's detoxification system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly.

As an excellent source of vitamin C, and a very good source of manganese, cauliflower provides us with two core conventional antioxidants. But, its antioxidant support extends far beyond the conventional nutrients into the realm of phytonutrients. Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower's key antioxidant phytonutrients.

This broad spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells. Chronic oxidative stress - meaning chronic presence over overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and cumulative damage to our cells by these molecules - is a risk factor for development of most cancer types. By providing us with such a great array of antioxidant nutrients, cauliflower helps lower our cancer risk by helping us avoid chronic and unwanted oxidative stress.

As an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), cauliflower provides us with two hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrients.

Vitamin K acts as a direct regulator of our inflammatory response, and ALA is the building block for several of the body's most widely-used families of anti-inflammatory messaging molecules. In addition to these two anti-inflammatory components, one of the glucosinolates found in cauliflower- glucobrassicin - can be readily converted into an isothiocyanate molecule called ITC, or indole-3-carbinol.

I3C is an anti-inflammatory compound that can actually operate at the genetic level, and by doing so, prevent the initiation of inflammatory responses at a very early stage.

The anti-inflammatory support provided by cauliflower (including its vitamin K and omega-3 content) makes it a food also capable of providing cardiovascular benefits. Of particular interest is its glucoraphanin content.

Glucoraphanin is a glucosinolate that can be converted into the isothiocyanate (ITC) sulforaphane. Not only does sulforaphane trigger anti-inflammatory activity in our cardiovascular system - it may also be able to help prevent and even possibly help reverse blood vessel damage.

The fiber content of cauliflower - nearly 12 grams in every 100 calories - makes this cruciferous vegetable a great choice for digestive system support. Researchers have determined that the sulforaphane made from a glucosinolate in cauliflower can help protect the lining of our stomach. Sulforaphane provides us with this health benefit by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to stomach wall.

The anti-inflammatory nature of glucosinolate and other nutrients found in cauliflower has been the basis for new research on inflammation-related health problems and the potential role of cauliflower in their prevention.

While current studies are examining the benefits of cruciferous vegetables as a group rather than cauliflower in particular, promising research is underway that should shed light on the potential benefits of cauliflower in relationship to our risk of the following inflammation-related health problems: inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.