Cauliflower (cabbage flower) is one of the familiar winter season vegetables. These beautiful flower heads are brimming with essential nutrients, hold numerous health benefiting phytonutrients such as vitamins, indole-3-carbinol, and sulforaphane that help prevent overweight, diabetes and offer protection from prostate, ovarian, and cervical cancers.
Botanically, it is a member of the cruciferous or Brassicaceae family of vegetables and has similar nutritional and phytochemistry profile as that of other brassica family veggies like broccoli and cabbage.
Likewise, that of broccoli, cauliflower also made up of tightly clustered florets that begin to evolve but halt at while in its immature (bud) stage. This cool-season vegetable prefers fertile, adequate moisture in the soil to flourish. Several cultivars exist other than common snow-white variety, including green, orange, purple, and romanesco heads.
While the floret heads are in their early creamy white stage, they ought to be protected from direct sunlight, which, otherwise would turn them green, and unappealing. Farmers pull close-by leaves together to cover the heads when they reach about a quarter of their predetermined size. Fully grown flower heads should be harvested at the right time to avoid them turning over-matured. Overmatured head loses compactness, and its surface become grainy, discolored, and no longer remain flavorful.
Health benefits of Cauliflower
It is very low in calories. 100 grams of the fresh cauliflower head provides just 26 calories. Nevertheless, it comprises of several health-benefiting antioxidants and vitamins, also, to be low in fat and cholesterol.
Its florets contain about 2 grams of dietary fiber per 100 g; providing about 5% of recommended value.
Cauliflower contains several anti-cancer phytochemicals like sulforaphane and plant sterols such as indole-3-carbinol, which appears to function as an anti-estrogen agent. Together, these compounds have proven benefits against prostate, breast, cervical, colon, ovarian cancers by their cancer-cell growth inhibition, cytotoxic effects on cancer cells.
Furthermore, Di-indolyl-methane (DIM), a lipid-soluble compound present abundantly in Brassica group of vegetables, including cauliflower, has found to be effective as an immune modulator, antibacterial and anti-viral agent. This compound brings out these functions by its ability to synthesize and potentiate γ-Interferon receptors at the cellular level. DIM has currently been found application in the treatment of recurring respiratory papillomatosis caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and is in Phase III clinical trials for cervical dysplasia.
Fresh cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin-C; 100 g provides about 48.2 mg or 80% of daily recommended value. Vitamin-C is a proven antioxidant that helps fight against harmful free radicals, boosts immunity, and prevents infections and cancers.
It contains good amounts of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as folates, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (B3) as well as vitamin K. These vitamins is essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish and required for fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
Further, It is an also good source of minerals in small quantities such as manganese, copper, iron, calcium and potassium. Manganese used in the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Potassium is an important intracellular electrolyte helps counter the hypertension effects of sodium.
Selection and storage
Cauliflowers can be available year round in the markets; however, they are at their best during winter months. In general, harvest when the flower-head reaches desired size but before ts florets begin to separate.
In the stores, choose fresh heads featuring snow/cream-white, compact, medium-sized heads that feel heavy in the hands. Grainy surface and gaps between florets indicate signs of overmaturity, while greenish coloration may be due to overexposure to sunlight. Avoid heads with bruised surface as they indicate poor handling of the flower and also those with dark color patches as they indicate mold disease known as “downy mildew.”
Once at home, store in the refrigerator set at higher relative humidity. They stay fresh for about a week if kept properly.
Preparation and serving methods
Its creamy-white flower heads are favorite items sought after by chefs worldwide. To wash, place head upside down, rinsed in a large bowl of cold water or salt water brine for about 15-20 minutes to ensure removal of any insects, soil or fungicide/insecticide sprays. Gently pat dry using a soft cloth. Remove tough stem and leaves.
Usually, the florets cut into equal sections/cubes to help cook evenly. Cook covered in boiling water, with some added common salt till they become tender for a few minutes. Overcooking may result in loss of nutrients, especially vitamin-C.
Here are some serving tips:
Cauliflower mixes well with other complementing vegetables, and lentils.
Aloo-gobi (potato-cauliflower) is a very popular dish in South Asian countries, especially in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Gobi-manchurian is another Indian-Chinese snack in which stirfried florets mixed with Chinese’s style sauces in a mouthwatering recipe.
Its florets are added in a pasta bake, casseroles and to make curry/soup.
It is also widely used in pickling.