Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C...
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C...
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Cauliflower grows in nearly every USDA hardiness zone, as long as there are at least two months of cool weather. It is one of many annual vegetables that belong to the species Brassica oleracea ( or cole family), along with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and collard greens. Most Americans are familiar with white cauliflower, the most common variety found in North America, but there are also green, brown, orange, and even purple cultivars.
Cauliflower is a cool-season crop that can be difficult to grow because it does not tolerate extreme heat or cold. For optimal growth, it prefers temperatures that consistently stay in the 60 to 70 degree Fahrenheit range. Otherwise, cauliflower may prematurely “button,” forming small, button-sized heads instead of healthy large ones.
In addition to cool weather, cauliflower requires moist soil conditions. It should be planted in mid-spring or mid-summer and takes 8 to 10 weeks to produce a summer crop and 4 to 5 weeks to produce a fall crop.
Because cauliflower grows best in cooler conditions, fall crops are of better quality. Cauliflower that is not exposed to enough cool weather acquires a bitter flavor.
Cauliflower is usually grown from seed, but can also be propagated by rooted cuttings. Typically, it is grown commercially because of its finicky temperature requirements.
Most home gardeners start cauliflower from transplants purchased from nurseries or garden centers.
Cauliflower heads are ideally about 6 to 8 inches in diameter when they are ready to harvest, usually one to two weeks after blanching (see Grow it Yourself section for details). A head that is ready for harvest is compact and firm.
If heads that are smaller than desired begin to open, they should be harvested anyway as their quality will only degrade once they begin to open.
The head is cut using a large, sharp knife. Some of the leaves around the cauliflower are left on the head to protect it. If a cauliflower is coarse in appearance, it should be discarded as it is past its prime.
Store cauliflower by placing it in a sealed plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the fridge where it keeps up to a week. Prevent moisture from forming in the stem clusters by storing them stem side down.
To freeze cauliflower, wash immediately after harvesting and use a knife to split the head into sections with florets no more than 1.5 inches across. Soak the florets in a salt brine (salt water) for 30 minutes to remove insects. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Blanch cauliflower for 3 minutes by submerging cauliflower in boiling water and covering the pot. Cool immediately in the prepared ice bath for 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly and transfer to an airtight plastic bag. Cauliflower can be kept in the freezer 8 to 12 months.
Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, and is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Cyprus. It was known to the Arabs and Romans as early as the 6th century BCE. Pliny the Elder first recorded cauliflower in western history in Rome in 2nd century CE, and it is also found in the writings of Arab botanists circa the 13 century CE.
Cauliflower began to spread throughout Europe during the 16th century, and by the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century France, it was a favorite in the courts of kings such as the extravagant “Sun King,” Louis XIV.
Cauliflower was not grown in the United States until the turn of the 20th century, when it was first cultivated in the Margaretville region of the Catskills Mountains where it reigned in U.S. production until the 1950s when California became the top commercial producer in the nation.
China, India, Spain, Italy and France are the world’s top commercial cauliflower producers (FAOSTAT, 2007).
There are a surprising number of cauliflower cultivars, ranging in color from white or green to orange and purple.
White cauliflower varieties: White Cloud, Early White Hybrid, Snow Crown, Amazing
Purple cauliflower varieties: Graffiti, Purple Head
Orange cauliflower varieties: Cheddar
Green cauliflower varieties: Vitaverde, Veronica
Cauliflower is typically eaten raw, steamed, or baked. It is an ingredient in salads, casseroles, side dishes, and soups. It’s also a popular topping on vegetarian or vegan pizzas, and may even serve as an ingredient in vegan pizza crusts, or desserts such as chocolate cake.
The cruciferous vegetable family, of which cauliflower is a member, offers an excellent array of nutritional benefits for a healthy body and mind.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C (73% the recommended daily value per serving) and beta carotene, as well as the antioxidant mineral, manganese.
In addition to well-known antioxidants, cauliflower also contains unconventional antioxidant nutrients such as beta-cryptoxanthin, cinnamic acid, rutin, quercetin, caffeic acid and kaempferol - all of which work together to reduce oxidative stress on the body. Reducing oxidative stress helps prevent the risk of almost every form of cancer.
Cauliflower is a good source of the anti-inflammatory vitamin K, which reduces the risk of cancer, as well as health conditions related to inflammation including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
In addition to good vitamin K content, cauliflower also contains heart-healthy omega-3 to provide cardiovascular benefits. A glucosinolate called glucoraphanin in cauliflower can be converted into a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called isothiocyanate sulforaphane, which can reverse the damage to red blood cells.
Cauliflower contains 9 grams of fiber for every 100 calories, supporting digestive health.
Sulforaphane, which protects the cardiovascular system, also protects the digestive system by fighting the growth of unhealthy bacteria on the stomach lining.
Cauliflower’s positive impact on the body’s inflammatory responses and the digestive system make it an important ally in risk-prevention for Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and insulin resistance in type II diabetics.
How to Grow Cauliflower
Cauliflower needs a growing season based on when temperatures consistently average between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a summer crop, plant cauliflower in mid-spring (2 to 4 weeks before last frost).
For a fall crop, plant in mid-summer (6 to 8 weeks before first frost).
Grow times for summer crops may be as long as double the grow times for fall crops.
Select a site that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
In warmer climates, it is best to plant cauliflower in areas cooled by the shade of taller plants.
Prior to planting, prepare the soil with a large amount of rich organic fertilizer, such as composted manure. Cauliflower is a heavy feeder, and prefers soil with a pH balance of 6.5-6.8.
If starting from seed, plant indoors 4 to 5 weeks before transplant date. Plant seeds in rows 3 to 6 inches apart and ¼ to ½ inch deep.
Space transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 30 inches apart, and apply a starter fertilizer upon planting.
In spring, be prepared to cover young plants to protect them from late-season frost.
For fall crops, monitor plants to make sure they are not receiving too much heat from the sun, which may cause the crop to taste bitter. Provide shade for plants in hot climates.
Maintain constant soil moisture, with at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Side dress plants with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer.
Most varieties of cauliflower take 75 to 85 days from transplanting to grow a head for harvest. The cauliflower head will start out loose and take time to develop.
The cauliflower head, or “curd,” will require blanching to keep the color as white as possible. When the curd is 2 to 3 inches in diameter, tie the outer leaves together over the head with a piece of twine or rubber band. This protects the head from the sun and is the reason the heads remain white.
Plants are usually ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.