Cauliflower 101 — The Basics

Cauliflower is growing in popularity in the United States. With the low-carb movement, people are discovering ingenious new ways to prepare this vegetable that our grandmothers would never have dreamed of! In the video below, I cover a lot of basic information about this interesting cruciferous vegetable, from what it is, to nutritional aspects, to how to prepare it and what foods and flavorings go well with it. To see my notes, please look below the video. Enjoy!

I hope this helps!

Cauliflower 101 – The Basics

About Cauliflower
Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, so it is related to cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other such vegetables. There are many different types of cauliflower, including different colors in orange, green and purple. In the United States, most cauliflower sold is white with a fairly large compact head (or “curd”) with undeveloped flower buds that resemble broccoli florets.

The history of cauliflower dates back about 2,000 years. It appears to have originated in the area of modern day Turkey. Many cultures prefer a loose curd variety of cauliflower over the tight compact head type often seen in our grocery stores. Cauliflower is more popular in other parts of the world than in America, although popularity is increasing with the new ways of preparing it with the “low carb” trend. China and India produce 74% of the world’s cauliflower.

Nutrition Tidbits
Like other vegetables in the cruciferous family, cauliflower is low in calories and high in specific nutrients. One cup of raw cauliflower has only 25 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 77% of the RDI for Vitamin C, 20% of the RDI for Vitamin K, and notable amounts of some B vitamins and potassium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Also like other members of the cruciferous family, cauliflower is high in antioxidants that help to boost our immunity, reduce inflammation, and help to protect against cancer and heart disease. Cauliflower also is one of the plant foods (along with its cousin broccoli) that contains choline, a compound that protects our nervous system and helps ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Many people who are following low carbohydrate diets are now using cauliflower in ingenious ways to create interesting food alternatives such as cauliflower rice, pizza crust, hummus, tortillas, and mashed in place of potatoes.

To learn more about the nutritional wonders of cauliflower, visit Dr. Michael Greger’s website, and watch some of his videos where cauliflower is discussed

How to Select Cauliflower
Look for cauliflower with a clean, firm, compact head that is creamy white in color. It should feel heavy for its size. Avoid those that are soft, have brown areas, or dark spots on the curds. Those with more leaves will usually be fresher.

How to Store Cauliflower
Store uncooked cauliflower in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Place it stem side down to protect the florets from excessive moisture. It will usually keep well in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

How to Preserve Cauliflower
Fresh cauliflower can be frozen, fermented, pickled, and dehydrated.

To freeze cauliflower: Blanch cauliflower pieces for 3 minutes in boiling water, or steam for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Then immediately place it in ice water to quickly cool it down. Leave the cauliflower in the ice water for as long as it was boiled or steamed. Then drain well and place in freezer containers or bags. It will keep for 10 to 12 months in the freezer. Here’s a link to an excellent explanation on how to freeze cauliflower.

Fermented cauliflower: The website is renowned for information and products for culturing foods. At this link, they share a way to ferment cauliflower with carrots and garlic:

Pickled cauliflower: Cauliflower pickles can be added to salads or used to flavor or accompany many foods. Here’s a delicious-sounding recipe with instructions on how to pickle cauliflower:

Here’s another link with instructions on making quick refrigerator cauliflower pickles or canning pickles

Dehydrated cauliflower: There is mixed information available on how and even whether cauliflower should be dehydrated. Some sources say it doesn’t need to be blanched; however, when you read the “fine print” they do state that it will darken after being dried if not blanched. Others state it should be blanched first, which I agree with, since blanching will stop the enzyme activity that will continue the aging process even after being dried. Follow your dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions on how to dry cauliflower in your machine.

Fresh vs Frozen
Cauliflower is available in most grocery stores both fresh and frozen. Fresh cauliflower is obviously more versatile than frozen, since it can be used both raw and cooked. Frozen cauliflower is a great convenience since it’s already washed, cut up and blanched. It will only be suitable for use in cooked dishes, but since it’s already blanched, it will require very little cooking time. Overcooking frozen cauliflower will make it soggy and mushy, so cook it quickly with as little water as possible (if you’re using water).

How to Prepare Cauliflower
The simplest way to wash cauliflower is to cut or break it into desired size pieces, then wash it. First, remove the leaves then remove the florets by cutting the central stem out where it meets the floret stalks. The florets can easily be removed and cut down or broken into smaller pieces, if desired.

If you are making cauliflower “steaks” then simply cut through the entire head into the desired width of slices needed for your recipe. The leaves and any undesired stem pieces can easily be removed after slicing.

Submerge the pieces into a bowl of water to rinse away any dirt or tiny insects that may be in there. It would be unusual to find insects in grocery store-purchased cauliflower. However, if the cauliflower was picked from your garden or bought at a farmer’s market, insects may be among the florets. In this case, soak your prepared pieces for 15 minutes in a bowl of salt water or a bowl of water with either lemon juice or vinegar mixed in. This will kill any insects that are lurking inside and also helps to remove any trapped dirt. After soaking, rinse the cauliflower well in fresh water, then proceed with your recipe.

Most people just eat the cauliflower florets. However, the stems and leaves are also edible, so include them if you want to enjoy the full benefit of the vegetable. Some people reserve the leaves and stems for soups or vegetable stock.

If you are opting to cook the cauliflower whole, then submerge the entire head for 15 minutes in a bowl of water, or one with salt or vinegar added, depending on where it was purchased. Rinse it well under running water afterward.

How is it usually eaten…raw or cooked?
Although cauliflower is edible both raw and cooked, it seems that Americans enjoy this vegetable cooked more than raw. Roasting has been the latest favorite way to prepare cauliflower.

Cooking/Serving Methods
Like broccoli, cauliflower contains sulfur compounds that can be released with extended cooking. To prevent that strong sulfur odor and flavor, cook cauliflower quickly and with as little water as possible. This will also help to retain its crispness.

Cauliflower can be boiled, steamed, roasted in bite-size pieces or steaks, sautéed, stir-fried, made into soups, crumbled into rice, mashed like potatoes, braised, added to stews, battered and fried, added to casseroles, baked into mock bagels, breads and muffins, and served raw in salads.

Below are some serving ideas from the website

Cauliflower Serving Ideas:
• Top hot cooked cauliflower with melted butter and season with your choice of chives, dill, nutmeg, minced parsley, or lemon juice for a delicious side dish.
• Try roasting it with a drizzle of olive oil and your favorite seasonings. Nuts pair nicely with cauliflower and can be roasted alongside the florets, if desired. Toss together in a bowl before serving.
• Raw cauliflower is delicious on a crudité platter and makes a crunchy addition to seasonal salads.
• Add chopped cooked cauliflower to a quiche, or stir it into scrambled eggs.
• Roast cauliflower and broccoli together, tossed with garam masala and olive oil.
• Cauliflower can be used to create kid-friendly dishes thanks to its ability to take on the flavors and seasonings of a recipe.
• Cut down on the carb content of decadent dishes like pizza and pasta by replacing the flour, grain or glutinous component with cauliflower.
• Bring classic Indian flavors to the table with a cauliflower aloo gobi.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Cauliflower
Basil, bay leaf, cardamom, chervil, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garam masala, ginger, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, saffron, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric

Foods That Go Well With Cauliflower
Because of its neutral flavor, cauliflower goes well with just about anything. It’s only limited to your imagination! Here are some suggestions:

Produce: apples, asparagus, bell pepper, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, citrus, corn, garlic, lime, lemon, kale, mango, mushrooms, olives, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach, squash, and tomatoes

Dairy: yogurt, cream, milk, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, feta cheese, Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese, browned butter, and butter

Other: beef, anchovies, pork, tofu, chickpeas, grains, pine nuts, walnuts, seeds, rice, almonds, tahini, and wine

Recipe Links
Asian Sautéed Cauliflower

Cauliflower, Fennel and White Bean Winter Salad

Five Ways to Eat Cauliflower

Recipe Roundup: Roasted Cauliflower (links to many recipes for roasted cauliflower)

25 Ways to Cook with Cauliflower

Everything Bagel Style Cauliflower Rolls

Everything Bagel Cauliflower Steaks

Roasted Garlic Cauliflower

Cauliflower Parmesan Crisps

Our 41 Best Cauliflower Recipes

Crispy Sea Salt & Vinegar Cauliflower “Popcorn”

30 Life-Changing Cauliflower Recipes for Every Comfort Food Craving

13 Healthy Cauliflower Recipes

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


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