Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group) is a cool-season vegetable grown for its dense heads of flower buds, the curd. Cauliflower is actually a flower that has not fully developed yet. The tightly packed florets are connected by a thick core, often with a few light leaves surrounding it. Cauliflower closely resembles broccoli. Both are closely related, being different cultivars of the same species, Brassica oleracea.
- Cauliflower is a member of the Brassicaceae or cabbage family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, radishes, kale, collards, and horseradish.
- Cauliflower is native to the Mediterranean region and has been grown and eaten across Europe since the 1500s. It was introduced in the United States in the 1900s.
- Cauliflower plants prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. Most gardeners can produce at least two harvests in a single year.
- Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable. It is “cruciferous” because the flowers have four petals and resemble a Greek cross.
- Cauliflower bears large rounded leaves that resemble collards. They extend far above the Cauliflower head and are often tied together before harvest to shade the head and prevent discoloration.
- Most Cauliflowers are white, though orange, purple, or green varieties also exist.
- The edible part is the head which is used as a vegetable. However, the leaves of Cauliflower are also edible but have a stronger taste than the florets.
- Cauliflower is rich in health benefits. Add it to your diet and enjoy it raw, steamed, puréed, mashed, grated, or roasted.
Main Types of Cauliflower
There are hundreds of varieties of Cauliflower. While most Cauliflowers are white, you will also find Cauliflowers in shades of orange, purple, and green. Although they look different, their taste is the same: mild, sweet, and nutty. The main differences are their color and nutritional value.
- White Cauliflower: White Cauliflower has a pearly white head of flower buds surrounded by green leaves. Cauliflower remains white due to protective leaves that shield the head from the sun, preventing the formation of chlorophyll.
- Green Cauliflower: Also called Broccoflower or Romanesco Cauliflower, Green Cauliflower is a hybrid of broccoli and Cauliflower. It contains more beta-carotene than White Cauliflower but less than broccoli. Its chlorophyll is heat sensitive, just like broccoli. Do not overcook, or your Cauliflower will turn brown.
- Purple Cauliflower: Purple Cauliflower has a deep purple curd surrounded by bluish-green leaves. Purple Cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that is also found in other red, blue, or purple fruits and vegetables. The anthocyanins leach out in the water. This Cauliflower better retains its color with dry heat such as roasting, grilling, or sautéing.
- Orange Cauliflower: Also called Cheddar Cauliflower, Orange Cauliflower holds more beta carotene than its white cousin. Carotenoids are also found in carrots, squash, and other yellow vegetables and fruits.
Cauliflowers are grown in four groups across different regions of the world:
- Italian Cauliflowers are the original Cauliflower species (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis). They include Romanesco Cauliflower and various other colored cultivars.
- Northwest European Cauliflowers are cultivars that are ready in the fall and are late harvesters.
- Northern European Cauliflowers are ready to harvest early in the season.
- Asian Cauliflowers are tropical varieties that grow well in warm weather.
Cauliflower Health Benefits
- While Cauliflower makes a flavorful addition to various dishes, it can also provide some health benefits.
- Cauliflower is low in calories and about 92% water: it is particularly effective at promoting hydration.
- Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamins (vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6) and minerals (potassium, manganese).
- Cauliflower is an excellent source of antioxidants, which fight harmful free radicals and inflammation.
- Cauliflower is rich in sulforaphane which helps in reducing the risk of cancer, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Moreover, Cauliflower contains choline which is required to enhance memory and learning ability.
- Cauliflower is also a good source of fiber which helps reduce inflammation and promote digestive health.
- People with certain conditions (thyroid or digestion issues, heart disease) may want to talk to their doctor before eating Cauliflower.
- Cauliflower grows up to 12-30 in. tall (30-75 cm) and 12-24 in. wide (30-60 cm), depending on the variety.
- Cauliflower performs best in full sun in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
- Before planting, add well-rotted manure or organic matter. As an alternative, apply a high-potassium general fertilizer to the planting site.
- Depending on the variety, Cauliflowers take 50-100 days to harvest.
- Cauliflower is more fussy about temperatures than the other brassicas. The optimum temperature range is 60-65°F (15-18°C).
- Cauliflower will tolerate a low temperature of 45°F (7°C) and grow poorly above 75°F (24°C).
- Some varieties are suitable for spring planting, growing quickly, and producing curds before hot summer weather sets in. Most types are best as a mid-summer planting for fall harvest.
- It is best to start with small plants versus starting from seed, as Cauliflower can be finicky.
- Set plants 18- 24 inches apart (45-60 cm) with 30 inches (75 cm) between rows.
- Mulch to retain moisture, protect the shallow roots, and control weeds.
- Cauliflower is susceptible to various pests. Keep an eye out for birds, cabbage caterpillars, cabbage gall weevil, cabbage root fly, cabbage whitefly, cutworms, flea beetle, mealy cabbage aphid, slugs and snails, and swede midge.
- Cauliflower is susceptible to various diseases, including black rot, clubroot, downy mildew, foot and root rot, leaf spot, and white blister.
- Cauliflower is propagated by seed.
Cauliflower: Companion Planting
- Excellent companion plants for Cauliflower are bush beans, beets, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, crimson clover, mint, tansy, garlic, onions, marigolds, nasturtiums, calendula, hyssop, spinach, dill, thyme, sage, lavender, chamomile, parsley, rosemary, oregano, anise, and zinnias.
- Nasturtium is an excellent companion for many plants, deterring aphids and improving growth and flavor.
- Plant oregano near Cauliflower to repel the cabbage butterfly.
- Lavender has no known pests, and its violet-blue flowers attract butterflies. Its strong scent will mask the smell of Cauliflower and confuses pests like aphids.
- Celery repels the white cabbage butterfly when grown near the Cauliflower.
- Sage repels cabbage moths and black flea beetles. Allowing sage to flower will also attract many beneficial insects, and the flowers are lovely.
- Anise has a strong licorice flavor and is good to plant near Cauliflower because its scent masks the odor of Cauliflower so that pests cannot find it. The plant also makes a good host for predatory wasps that love to feed on aphids. It is also supposed to repel aphids and increase the vigor of any plants growing beside it.
- Do not plant Cauliflower near peppers, radishes, strawberries, or tomatoes.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.