Cauliflower is a biennial plant in the Brassicaceae family, and of the same species as cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. These are called cole crops. The modern cultivated cauliflower was actually bred from the wild cabbage in the Mediterranean region over 2000 years ago. It became very popular in Asia and Italy and eventually made its way to other parts of Europe in the 16th century. It is exclusively an agricultural plant and does not grow wild anywhere in the world.
The cauliflower head is called the “curd” as it resembles cheese curds and it is composed of florets. There are several varieties of cauliflower and while they can be grouped according to the season of harvest, it is more common to group them by colour:
The most familiar to gardeners and cooks in North America.
Green Cauliflower or “Broccoflower”:
A product of the cross-pollination of broccoli and cauliflower. It is similar in nutrient value as cauliflower but has some of the chlorophyll of broccoli.
Purple or “Graffiti” Cauliflower:
Full of flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins, which give it the purple color and may help to regulate blood lipid and sugar levels, as well as help to lower cancer risk.
Orange or “Cheddar” Cauliflower:
A variety with extra beta-carotene in the florets and more Vitamin A than other varieties. Beta-carotene is what gives carrots their orange glow.
Similar to broccoflower but has the spiral shaped spikes of the head make it very different and unique when compared to either broccoli or cauliflower.
How to Buy:
When selecting cauliflower, look for clean, compact floret heads that are not separating and avoid heads with brown spots.
How to Store:
Cauliflower can be stored in the refrigerator in a ventilated plastic or paper bag for about a week, and in some cases longer if you’re willing to trim away small areas of decay. Cauliflower will last longer in conditions of high humidity but it is advised to store with the stem down so the head is not too damp.
Cauliflower is sensitive to ethylene gas, so when placing your cauliflower in your refrigerator, take care to place it far away from fruit such as apples, avocados, kiwis, melons, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes which produce ethylene as they continue to ripen.
Curds can be frozen or pickled for long-term storage. To freeze, cut cauliflower into bite-size pieces or florets. Blanch for 3 minutes in lightly salted water. Cool in ice water for 3 minutes, drain, and dry gently with a tea towel. Place pieces in a sealable freezer bag and extract as much air as possible before placing it in the freezer.
How to Prepare:
Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. It can be steamed, baked, roasted, stir-fried, sautéed, boiled or pickled, sauteed in garlic or smothered in cheese sauce. Cauliflower may also be shredded and cooked as an alternative to rice, used as a gluten-free pizza crust or baked in Buffalo sauce as a vegetarian substitution for chicken wings. Cauliflower’s stem and leaves are also edible; however, the leaves have a stronger taste than the florets.
Cauliflower is nutritious and rich in antioxidants. It is an excellent source of vitamins B, C, and K; and minerals, such as manganese, copper, iron, calcium and potassium.
How They Are Grown:
Cauliflower is a sun-loving, cool-season crop, but it can be a challenge to grow as it does not tolerate extreme heat or cold. The plant is generally started from seed in a greenhouse and transplanted into the field by specialized machines to avoid late spring frosts and allow for a longer growing season.
When the curd (the white head) is 2-3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) in diameter, the outer leaves are tied together over the head and secure with a rubber band, tape, or twine to keep light out. This stops the photosynthesis process from happening to the flours and they don’t turn yellow because consumers prefer bright white cauliflower. This is not necessary for self-blanching or colored varieties. The plants are usually ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after this blanching procedure.
The majority of cauliflowers are harvested by hand by workers who walk through the field, picking the heads, trimming the outer leaves and placing them on a conveyor. The conveyor feeds up to a flatbed trailer pulled behind a truck or tractor where another team of workers clean and wrap the heads in perforated cellophane or ventilated plastic bags right in the field. They are then loaded into boxes to be transferred to a refrigerator before being shipped to the grocery store.
Canadian Crop is Available: June – October
Grown in: Quebec (62%), Ontario (18%)
For More Information:
- Holland Marsh Growers Association
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Association of Quebec Market Gardeners