What Will Happen If You Cook Cauliflower?


Nutritional Profile

  • Energy value (calories per serving): Low
  • Protein: High
  • Fat: Low
  • Saturated fat: Low
  • Cholesterol: None
  • Carbohydrates: High
  • Fiber: High
  • Sodium: Low
  • Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins, vitamin C
  • Major mineral contribution: Potassium

About the Nutrients in This Food

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and a moderately good source of folate, a member of the B vitamin family.

One-half cup cooked fresh cauliflower florets (the top of the plant) has one gram dietary fiber, 13.5 mcg folate (3 percent of the RDA), and 35 mg vitamin C (50 percent of the RDA for a woman, 39 percent of the RDA for a man).

The Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food

Raw or lightly steamed to protect the vitamin C. Cooked or frozen cauli-

flower may have up to 50 percent less vitamin C than raw cauliflower.

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food

  • Antiflatulence diet
  • Low-fiber diet

Buying This Food

Look for: Creamy white heads with tight, compact florets and fresh green leaves. The size of the cauliflower has no bearing on its nutritional value or its taste.

Avoid: Cauliflower with brown spots or patches.

Storing This Food

Keep cauliflower in a cool, humid place to safeguard its vitamin C content.

Preparing This Food

Pull off and discard any green leaves still attached to the cauliflower and slice off the woody stem and core. Then plunge the cauliflower, head down, into a bowl of salted ice water to flush out any insects hiding in the head. To keep the cauliflower crisp when cooked, add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water. You can steam or bake the cauliflower head whole or break it up into florets for faster cooking.

What Happens When You Cook This Food

Cauliflower contains mustard oils (isothiocyanates), natural chemicals that give the vegeta- ble its taste but break down into a variety of smelly sulfur compounds (including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia) when the cauliflower is heated. The longer you cook the cauliflower, the better it will taste but the worse it will smell. Adding a slice of bread to the cooking water may lessen the odor; keeping a lid on the pot will stop the smelly molecules from floating off into the air.

Cooking cauliflower in an aluminum pot will intensify its odor and turn its creamy white anthoxanthin pigments yellow; iron pots will turn anthoxanthins blue green or brown. Like red and blue anthocyanin pigments (see beets, blackberries, blueberries), antho- xanthins hold their color best in acids. To keep cauliflower white, add a tablespoon of lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, or milk to the cooking water.

Steaming or stir-frying cauliflower preserves the vitamin C that would be lost if the vegetable were cooked for a long time or in a lot of water.

How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food

Freezing. Before it is frozen, cauliflower must be blanched to inactivate catalase and per- oxidase, enzymes that would otherwise continue to ripen and eventually deteriorate the vegetable. According to researchers at Cornell University, cauliflower will lose less vitamin C if it is blanched in very little water (two cups cauliflower in two tbsp. water) in a microwave- safe plastic bag in a microwave oven for four minutes at 600–700 watts. Leave the bag open an inch at the top so steam can escape and the bag does not explode.

Medical Uses and/or Benefits

Protection against certain cancers. Naturally occurring chemicals (indoles, isothiocyanates, glucosinolates, dithiolethiones, and phenols) in cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cab- bage, and other cruciferous vegetables appear to reduce the risk of some cancers, perhaps by preventing the formation of carcinogens in your body or by blocking cancer-causing substances from reaching or reacting with sensitive body tissues or by inhibiting the trans- formation of healthy cells to malignant ones.

All cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, a member of a family of chemicals known as isothiocyanates. In experiments with laboratory rats, sulforaphane appears to increase the body’s production of phase-2 enzymes, naturally occurring substances that inacti- vate and help eliminate carcinogens. At the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, 69 percent of the rats injected with a chemical known to cause mammary cancer developed tumors vs. only 26 percent of the rats given the carcinogenic chemical plus sulforaphane.

In 1997, Johns Hopkins researchers discovered that broccoli seeds and three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain a compound converted to sulforaphane when the seed and sprout cells are crushed. Five grams of three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain as much sulforaphane as 150 grams of mature broccoli. The sulforaphane levels in other cruciferous vegetables have not yet been calculated.

Vision protection. In 2004, the Johns Hopkins researchers updated their findings on sul- foraphane to suggest that it may also protect cells in the eyes from damage due to UV (ultraviolet) light, thus reducing the risk of macular degeneration, the most common cause of age-related vision loss.

Adverse Effects Associated with This Food

Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter). Cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower, contain goi- trin, thiocyanate, and isothiocyanate. These chemicals, known collectively as goitrogens, inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones and cause the thyroid to enlarge in an attempt to produce more. Goitrogens are not hazardous for healthy people who eat moderate amounts of cruciferous vegetables, but they may pose problems for people who have a thyroid condi- tion or are taking thyroid medication.

Intestinal gas. Bacteria that live naturally in the gut degrade the indigestible carbohydrates (food fiber) in cauliflower, producing intestinal gas that some people find distressing.

Food/Drug Interactions

Anticoagulants (blood thinners). All cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cab- bages, cauliflower, greens, radishes, and turnips) are high in vitamin K, a nutrient that decreases the anticoagulant effect of medicine such as warfarin (Coumadin). Multiple serv- ings of this vegetable, i.e., several days a week, may interfere with the anticoagulant effect of the drug.

False-positive test for occult blood in the stool. The active ingredient in the guaiac slide test for hid- den blood in feces is alphaguaiaconic acid, a chemical that turns blue in the presence of blood. Cauliflower contains peroxidase, a natural chemical that also turns alphaguaiaconic acid blue and may produce a positive test in people who do not actually have blood in the stool.

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