Cauliflower is probably one of those vegetables your parents had fits trying to get you to eat as a child. But since it’s made its debut as the newest “it” vegetable for replacing just about anything—from carbs to meat—cauliflower is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. So in case you’ve been wondering about letting cauliflower back into your life, come with us as we explore its health benefits and versatility and uncover why it’s time to start showing the cauliflower some love.
Cauliflower: Nutrition Facts
Okay, we admit it. A head of cauliflower does look a little bit like, um, a brain.
But don’t let that put you off. Because this member of the cruciferous family of vegetables has a mild and slightly sweet and nutty flavor that makes it pair well with just about anything.
And did we mention it’s good for you too? In fact, just 1 cup of cauliflower contains 4% of the RDA of protein, 10% of the RDA of dietary fiber, and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, including:
- 77% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 20% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 11% of the RDA of vitamin B6
- 14% of the RDA of folate
- 7% of the RDA of pantothenic acid
- 9% of the RDA of potassium
- 4% of the RDA of magnesium
- 8% of the RDA of manganese
Cauliflower is also packed with phytochemicals—beneficial plant chemicals that can protect the body from dangerous levels of inflammation and chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
While all plants contain phytochemicals, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli are especially rich in:
- Carotenoids: These phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals, which can lead to inflammation and DNA damage.
- Polyphenols: These phytonutrients make up the largest known category of phytochemicals. They possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown in studies to halt the growth and proliferation of cancer cells.
- Glucosinolates: These phytochemicals are rich in sulfur—which is what gives cruciferous vegetables their characteristic taste and smell—and are known for their potent anti-cancer properties.
Types of Cauliflower
If you’re not a huge fan of cauliflower, you might be unaware that this healthy veggie actually comes in a variety of colors. And though they’re all similar in taste—and the cauliflower florets, leaves, and stalks are all edible—the color variations mean they have different levels of some phytochemicals.
- White cauliflower: The most common variety of cauliflower, the white cauliflower is the type whose nutritional profile we quoted above.
- Orange cauliflower: The orange cauliflower, which is also sometimes called the cheddar cauliflower, gets its color from increased levels of beta-carotene, which are approximately 25 times higher than those seen in white cauliflower.
- Green cauliflower: This broccoli-cauliflower hybrid, which is sometimes called broccoflower, is a more recent cultivar that hasn’t yet been closely studied, though its green color would indicate it contains at least some of the same phytochemical traits as broccoli.
- Purple cauliflower: The purple cauliflower gets its flashy color from high levels of anthocyanins—flavonoids that possess powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-cancer, and hepatoprotective properties.
Health Benefits of Cauliflower
We’re so used to being told white food—white bread, white rice, etc.—is bad for us that it’s hard to believe a white vegetable could possibly have any nutritional value. But, as we’ve seen, white cauliflower (and orange and green and purple) is a powerhouse of nutrition. And, along with the rest of the cruciferous family, it’s known to have a wide range of health benefits too.
Here’s just a sampling.
Among the glucosinolates found in cauliflower are metabolites called isothiocyanates. One particular isothiocyanate, sulforaphane, has been found in numerous studies to protect the body from environmental carcinogens and to prevent the growth of cancerous tumors—and even induce cancer cell death.
Sulforaphane has also been found in studies to decrease blood pressure and vascular inflammation—two factors that are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
One cup of cauliflower contains about 48 milligrams of choline—a nutrient that’s required for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which in turn is necessary for proper memory and cognitive function. Acetylcholine is so important, in fact, that low levels are associated with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Cooking with Cauliflower
If you’re not used to cooking with cauliflower, that compact head of florets—which is also sometimes called the curd—can seem a little daunting at first. But the possibilities are really endless.
From appetizers to side dish to main course, from pizza crust to cauliflower rice, soup, and mashed potatoes, it doesn’t matter whether you’re vegan or a dyed-in-the-wool meat eater—there’s a cauliflower recipe out there for you. But one of the best has to be roasted cauliflower.
Roasted Cauliflower Done Right
If you’re a fan of roasted vegetables, you know there’s nothing quite like that crispy, caramelized flavor. And cauliflower’s no different. So if you think you’re not a fan of cauliflower, we have just the roasted cauliflower recipe to help you get your feet wet.
This easy recipe can be created using whole roasted cauliflower, cauliflower florets, or even cauliflower steaks (1-inch thick slices cut lengthwise from the head through the core).
In a baking dish, brush cauliflower with a combination of butter or extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic or garlic powder, lemon juice, and salt and black pepper to taste. Cover with foil and place in a 400 °F oven for 30 to 45 minutes, remove foil, roast cauliflower for an additional 15 minutes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and return to oven and broil for a final 3 to 5 minutes.
If roasting cauliflower florets or steaks, use a baking sheet, up oven temperature to 425 °F, leave off foil, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, turning halfway through.
In both versions, the cauliflower is done when it’s fork-tender.
Like just about any cauliflower recipe, this one can be tweaked to suit your taste. So if you’re vegan, leave off the cheese. And if you’re a die-hard cheese fan, don’t feel you have to limit yourself to Parmesan—use whatever floats your boat.
And don’t be afraid to mix up the spices. Try pumping up the heat with red pepper, sprinkling on some Italian herbs, adding an Indian twist with garam masala, or spicing it up with Louisiana flare and Cajun spices.
Whether you’re already sold on cauliflower or think there’s absolutely no way you can be converted, we know there’s a cauliflower recipe you’ll enjoy. So explore, experiment. Find new ways to get acquainted with this super healthy cruciferous vegetable. You’ll be glad you did.