(Brassica oleraceae var. botrytis— Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
The thick stems under the buds act as storage organs for nutrients, which would have gone into the flowers and eventual fruits had their development not been aborted. All these types are therefore richer in vitamins and minerals than other brassicas.
The largest producers of cauliflower are China and India, with about one million tons each; but they consume all of their record harvests at home. Major European exporters are France and Italy. Nevertheless, cauliflower is widely available throughout the world, but most is for domestic consumption.
It is believed that cauliflower originated in Cyprus, where the oldest record dates from the 6th century BCE. One thousand years later, they were still grown there, and known as “Cyprus coleworts” in England.
The cauliflower owes its name to various sources. In 1597, one writer called them “Cole flowery”, referring to their flowery heads and stemming from their ‘colewort’ name.
Moorish scholars in 12th century Spain, described three varieties introduced from Syria, where they had grown for over 1,000 years and highly cultivated by the Arabs. Even in 1699, John Evelyn wrote that the best seed came from Aleppo (now Halab, in northern Syria).
Cultivation methods improved after 1700; and, by the end of the 18th century, the cauliflower was highly regarded throughout Europe. But not everyone thought so highly of this vegetable. Mark Twain once quipped, “Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education”.
Cauliflower is especially popular because of its mild cabbage flavour. It is also a good source of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and vitamins B, C, and potassium. It needs to be quickly steamed in order to retain its valuable water-soluble vitamins.
Its size has no bearing on nutritional value or taste, but its colour does.
is not only a visual impact; but is also substantially richer in Vitamin C, protein, and minerals. It is also more aromatic and contains fewer nitrates than the white varieties.
The mustard oils (isothiocyanates) in the vegetable are natural chemicals responsible for the flavour, as well as for the release of the odourous sulfur compounds that give it a strong smell when overcooked. To keep cauliflower white during cooking, a spoonful of lemon juice can be added to the water. This vegetable also freezes well for future use.
The reason that cauliflower costs more than either broccoli or cabbage is because growers have to spend extra time in the fields tying the leaves over the heads to protect them from the sun’s rays and, therefore, ensuring that the head will be white.
Since the curds cannot make any chlorophyll because of the lack of sunlight, the heads remain blanched; but new varieties are being bred so that the leaves automatically serve as protection from the sun.
Although cauliflower is usually white, inspiring such variety names as Snowball or White Sails, in the early 1980” a hybrid was developed and dubbed “broccoflower” (see above). It has a lime green head (curd) that is more tender and sweeter than broccoli. Growers are preferring it because it takes less work to harvest than the white varieties.
Colourful heads are now becoming popular, with purple
varieties appearing, as well as the green and white.
Colour develops when the curd is deliberately exposed to sunlight, which creates a stronger colour. Romanesco
is one of the green cauliflower varieties now available. It is also a generic term for chartreuse-coloured varieties notable for their minaret or turret-like structure, thus causing it to be called “a minaret cabbage”.
This decorative vegetable is often cooked and served whole.
Purple varieties are a result of anthocyanins that develop with direct sunshine and cooler temperatures. High temperatures explain the sometimes irregular appearance of some Italian purple varieties. It is important to distinguish between type-determined varieties and those that turn colour because of environmental changes.
Purple cauliflower, that ranges from reddish to a deep purple shade, depending on the variety, is a specialty of southern Italy. With longer cooking times, that colour fades to green.
There are four main groups of cauliflower, each classified by its harvest season: spring, summer, autumn, and winter; but many overlap seasons.
Mini cauliflower is a specialty that is as rare as it is expensive, and cultivated mainly in France and California for the restaurant industry.
Like their big brothers, the mini ones also come in shades of white, green, and purple.
Some varieties include the following:
All the Year Round produces good quality white heads.
Alverda has yellow-green heads, and is the best known and most widely cultivated green variety.
Autumn Giant 3 has beautiful white firm heads.
Castlegrant produces deep curds.
Dok Elgon has firm snow-white heads.
Early Snowball is dwarf and compact.
Limelight has soft, green heads.
Minaret has small lime-green florets.
Orange Bouquet is a pale gold that keeps its colour.
Purple Cape is purple but turns green when cooked.
Snowball Self-Blanching/Snowcap/Veitch’s Autumn Giant are huge plants with massive heads that can easily reach a foot across.
Walcheren Winter 3/Armando April/Walcheren Winter 4/Markanta are some of the hardiest overwintering varieties having pure white heads.
White Rock is a versatile variety that produces plenty of leaves to protect the heads.