The Many Colors of Cauliflower – Purple, Green, Orange, and White

Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower heads
Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower

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?

Cauliflower is an ancient vegetable that was naturally pigmented; over time, with selective breeding, white cauliflower evolved and became the market standard. 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.  In general, cauliflower is widely known as one of the world’s healthiest foods and has been cited in its ability to reduce the risk of cancer. Cauliflower is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K which promotes a healthy immune system along with hearth and bone health.

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.   Prince de Bretagne, growers of colored cauliflower, also has tips for preparing and using.

There are lots of recipes available online for preparing the colored cauliflowers.  Enjoy the color!

Reviewed and updated 4-24, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Cauliflower was one of my least favorite vegetables when I was a child. It was usually served overcooked, pale in color and under seasoned. In recent years I have discovered a great way to prepare this nutritious vegetable and it could not be easier (nor more delicious) – ROASTED CAULIFLOWER! Some recipes call for separating the head into flowerettes. I prefer to remove the core and simply slice the entire head into ½ inch slices. This results in more surface area to be caramelized when roasting. Lay the slices in a jelly roll pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil or olive oil. Spray the tops of the slices with a little more olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper (either black or red) and roast in a 450 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness desired. I usually remove mine from the oven when it is golden brown and beginning to crisp. Both adults AND children love this recipe!

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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