From Indian to Mediterranean cuisine, cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can absorb flavors. It almost reminds me of tofu of the vegetable world, since its somewhat bland taste can be changed and amplified through spices. To others, it may remind them of looking a brain (maybe that’s why they don’t want to eat it). A lot of people wouldn’t agree to loving cauliflower but that could be because they may have only had it boiled or prepared in ill fitting ways. Once you try out something like cauliflower and chickpea curry or aloo gobi, it changes your perspective on what you thought cauliflower was like all along. So what makes cauliflower so interesting… let’s first step back in time to see where they first were cultivated.
Brief History Time!
Cauliflower is believed to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean area in the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It went from Cyprus and spread eventually to places like Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Syria and northwestern Europe. What about India? It is true that many of their vegetarian dishes incorporate vegetables including cauliflower. However cauliflower wasn’t introduced to India until 1822 from the English. The seeds were imported at that time and cultivated. In fact, in India the cauliflower crops are grown more than cabbages and in places like the Himalayas or other hills and plains, being able to withstand humid conditions.
I found that bit to be interesting to know since cauliflower is used a lot in their cooking even though it didn’t originate there. It is also known to be a cool weather growing crop, so the ones growing in Europe are in entirely different conditions than the ones in India.
What about Health benefits?
As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (including veggies like brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale and broccoli, etc.), cauliflower is a beneficial vegetable to include in your lifestyle.
While its white pigment may fool others into thinking its not as nutrient dense as kale or broccoli, cauliflower lends many phytonutrients to the body with glucosionaltes in particular being the most beneficial and in research studies.
Glucosinolates: So what exactly is this strange word and what are they doing in cauliflower? Well, glucosinolates are compounds in cruciferous vegetables that are sulfur containing. Cauliflower contains a variety of them since there is a long list of names of glucosinolates including glucobrassicin, glucoiberin and progoitrin. What happens in the body when you eat foods with glucosinolates, is that they get broken down into metabolites that can then cause reactions in the cells to have an antibiotic effect. This effect can help to keep away bacterial or viral infections in the body, especially in the intestines.
- Possible cancer prevention: Extensive research has started and is showing promise with glucosinolates having an influence on inflammation, our cardiovascular systems and possibly reducing the risk of cancers. For example, one study done in 2009 showed that the correlation between lung cancer and cruciferous vegetable consumption could reduce the risk of that type of cancer by 17 to 23 percent. Another report in 2012 also showed the same percentage range for reducing cancer risk with colorectal cancer, kidney, mouth and throat and breast cancers.
The way cauliflower can actually have anti-cancer properties is by an enzyme called myrosinase converting the glucosinolates into anti-cancer compounds.
High in Vitamin C (and other vitamins): With a daily value of 73% Vitamin C for one cup of cauliflower, it’s no secret that this vegetable is a great source of this immune boosting vitamin. Maybe cauliflower soup should be eaten during a cold in addition to chicken noodle, since there are a slew of vitamins and antioxidants that can help kick out a virus sooner. Other vitamins that you might not know cauliflower is rich in per cup are Vitamin K (19% DV), folate (14%), B6 and even pantothenic acid. It is a good source of choline too, which I will discuss in a second.
One of the best sources of Choline (plant based): There aren’t too many foods that contain high amounts of a daily value of choline, but cauliflower and broccoli are known to be one the best plant based sources per serving to get choline from. With 1 cup of cauliflower being 11% of the daily value or adequate intake for a day, I can say that it is a pretty efficient source for receiving choline since those who don’t eat seafood or animal products/eggs may even be a bit deficient in it from our regular diets. However if you are vegetarian, you would just have to combine the plant based sources that do have choline in your daily diet to ensure you reach adequate levels (along with a possible supplement).
It is an important nutrient to get for many functions, including neurological health and brain development.
During pregnancy it is important for women to get choline and folate since they both help with producing a healthy nervous system. It has been shown that lower levels of choline in the body could contribute to the risk of heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So don’t be afraid to try out this vegetable that may look like a brain and not be that appealing in flavor. If you are creative enough to not just boil cauliflower and have it bland, amp it up with lots of spices, acidity like tomatoes or even use it in place for rice. I made a cauliflower fried rice that had so many other flavors from garlic and soy sauce, that I couldn’t tell it wasn’t real rice. Try cauliflower rice and beans and put into a burrito, or the infamous cauliflower crust to make for low carb pizzas. Above all else, just play with your food!