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While many people recognize cauliflower as a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, this popular plant is more closely connected with its fellow “crucifers” than people might realize. Cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli all belong to the same genus and species of plant (Brassica oleracea) and this degree of commonality among popular plant foods is somewhat unusual.
While the traditional family name for this group of foods is “cruciferous vegetables,” many scientists are tending away from the science name Crucifereae for this plant family and more toward the name Brassicaceae. So you will also hear cauliflower being referred to as not only a “cruciferous” vegetable but a “brassica” vegetable as well. (In Latin, the word “brassica” means “cabbage.”)
Cauliflower is generally thought to be native to the general Mediterranean region, especially the northeastern portion of this region in what is now the country of Turkey. Its history here dates back over 2,000 years. It’s interesting to note that varieties of cauliflower were not always selected to include a large, compact head (or “curd”) and that in many regions of the world, cauliflower crops still do not focus on those varieties.
“Loose curd” cauliflower, for example, is widely enjoyed in many areas of China. Roughly speaking, “loose curd” cauliflower can be considered as comparable to broccoli raab—a form of broccoli that also lacks a large compact head and features longer stems and leaves.
Perhaps because the most commonly consumed varieties of cauliflower are white, many people may not associate cauliflower with the same nutrient richness as its fellow green cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale.
This perspective on cauliflower does not match up with the research findings on this amazing food. White varieties of cauliflower are just as rich in phytonutrients as green cruciferous vegetables, and this nutrient richness is exemplified by its glucosinolates, described below.