Have you been seeing something in the supermarket or famer’s markets that looks like cauliflower but instead of the traditional white, the heads are purple, orange, and green? Colored cauliflower started popping up in the markets about 10 years ago and have increasingly become more popular and readily available. What are these colored cauliflowers? How do they taste? How to prepare them so they retain their color?
White cauliflower used to be the only option. The colored cauliflowers, like the white variety, are members of the cruciferous vegetable family. They have a similar texture and taste—mild, sweet, and nutty. The major difference is their color and with color, a slight difference in nutritional value.
White cauliflower matures creamy white if the head is void of direct sunlight. Older cultivars need to be blanched (inner leaves are tied loosely over the small heads to reduce the amount of light penetration) to prevent the sun from turning white cauliflower to yellow. Newer cultivars are self-blanching as the plants produce inner leaves that hug the heads tightly preventing light penetration. No blanching is required for the colorful varieties.
Purple cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that is also found in other red, blue, or purple fruits and vegetables, as well as red wine. Carotenoids are responsible for the color in orange cauliflower; carotenoids are also found in carrots, squash, and other yellow vegetables and fruits. Orange cauliflower actually came about as a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more beta carotene than its white counterpart. Green cauliflower, also known as broccoflower, is a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower. Green cauliflower contains more beta carotene than white cauliflower, but less than broccoli.
Colored cauliflower can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed or steamed. Cooks Illustrated experimented to find out the best method of preparation for holding color. They found that the orange cauliflower proved to be the most stable; the orange pigments are not water soluble or sensitive to heat. The chlorophyll in the green cauliflower is heat sensitive just like broccoli; overcooking will cause the cauliflower to become brown. The anthocyanins in purple cauliflower leach out in water which dulls it’s color; color is better retained with dry heat such as roasting, grilling, or sautéing.
There are lots of recipes available online for preparing the colored cauliflowers. Enjoy the color!