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Health: What’s New and Beneficial About Cauliflower


What’s New and Beneficial About Cauliflower

  • Information gathered for a large-scale study called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) has shown cauliflower to be an especially popular cruciferous vegetable in 10 western European countries, tying for first place with cabbage for the vegetable consumed most frequently. Here is how cauliflower stacked up against other cruciferous vegetables as a percentage of all vegetables eaten:cauliflower (25%); white cabbage (13%), and cabbage “unspecified” (12%). It is also interesting to compare cauliflower with broccoli in the study findings since cauliflower accounted for a greater percentage of total vegetable consumption than broccoli (18%).
  • Recent studies have shown that boiling, full submersion of cauliflower in water when cooking, is not the best cooking practice if you want to preserve key phytonutrients in this cruciferous vegetable. In one study, 3 minutes of cauliflower submersion in a full pot of boiling water was enough to draw out more phytonutrients than 10 full minutes of steaming. Glucosinolates and flavonoids were the phytonutrients lost from cauliflower in greater amounts with full water submersion.
  • At least in some countries, cooked cauliflower is greatly preferred over raw cauliflower. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)—also referred to above—has found that 80% of the cauliflower consumed in 10 European countries (including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) is enjoyed in cooked form (versus raw).
  • Several recent studies have shown the cooking of raw cauliflower to significantly improve its ability to bind together with bile acids. Since bile acid binding is a well-documented method for helping regulate blood cholesterol levels, these studies point to potential cardiovascular benefits from consumption of cooked cauliflower. The most detailed study that we have seen in this area examined cauliflower that had been steamed for 10 minutes.

WHFoods Recommendations

You’ll want to include cauliflower as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, we recommend 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. A more optimal intake amount would be 1-1/2 cups per day, or about 10 cups per week. You can use our Veggie Advisor for help in figuring out your best cruciferous vegetable options.

As with all vegetables, be sure not to overcook cauliflower. We suggest Healthy Sautéeing cauliflower rather than the more traditional methods of boiling or steaming, which makes them waterlogged, mushy and lose much of its flavor. Cut cauliflower florets into quarters and let sit for 5 minutes before cooking. For great tasting cauliflower add 1 teaspoon of turmeric when adding the cauliflower to the skillet.

Cauliflower, cooked
1.00 cup
(124.00 grams)
Calories: 29
GI: very low

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Cauliflower provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Cauliflower can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cauliflower, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

Health Benefits

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.

Glucosinolates in Cauliflower

The phytonutrients provided by cauliflower are headed off by its glucosinolates. These sulfur-containing compounds are well studied and known to provide a variety of health benefits. The glucosinolates best studied in cauliflower include:

  • glucobrassicin
  • glucoiberin
  • glucoerucin
  • glucoraphanin
  • neo-glucobrassicin
  • progoitrin
  • sinigrin
  • 4-hydroxyglucobrassicin
  • 4-methoxyglucobrassicin

Glucosinolates are the subject of increasing health research, and the more that is learned about glucosinolates, the broader scientists see their role in supporting our body systems. The list of body systems supported by intake of glucosinolates from cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables has now come to include our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, inflammatory, and detoxification systems. For in-depth information about glucosinolates and health support, see our article, Feeling Great with Cruciferous Vegetables.

Antioxidants in Cauliflower

Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol are among cauliflower’s key antioxidant phytonutrients. An emphatic addition to this list would be vitamin C since cauliflower is our 10th best source of vitamin C among all 100 WHFoods. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is also a very good source of manganese—a mineral antioxidant that is especially important in oxygen-related metabolism.

Recent research has begun to investigate the relationship between cauliflower’s overall antioxidant capacity and its sulfur-containing glucosinolates. The glucosinolates in cauliflower appear to have an important relationship with its antioxidant capacity, although scientists are not yet sure about the exact role that glucosinolates play in this regard.

A final note about cauliflower antioxidants: the Graffiti variety of purple cauliflower has been the subject of several recent research studies and has been shown to have especially strong antioxidant capacity due to its rich concentration of anthocyanins. If you decide to incorporate purple cauliflower into your meal plan, we recommend that you be extra careful to avoid overcooking it. Research studies on anthocyanins in cauliflower have shown that the greatest proportion of these antioxidant pigments is found in the outermost layers of the cauliflower head and this location makes them especially susceptible to loss from overcooking.

Cauliflower and Risk of Specific Health Conditions

Intake of cauliflower has been analyzed in relationship to a variety of different disease risks. When consumed at least once per week, cauliflower has been associated with decreased risk of colorectal cancer and has been shown to be associated with a greater decrease of risk than broccoli (when consumed in a comparable amount). In terms of prostate cancer risk, cauliflower and broccoli have shown a similar ability to decrease risk. While we have not seen individual studies focused exclusively on the relationship between cauliflower and cardiovascular diseases, cauliflower has been included along with other cruciferous vegetables (most commonly broccoli and cabbage) in studies on cardiovascular diseases and has been repeatedly associated with decreased risk. Because of its ability to bind bile acids, intake of cooked cauliflower has also been linked to better regulation of blood cholesterol. In one study focusing on intake of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts in middle-aged women, incidence of obesity was reduced when women in the study increased their servings over time by about 3 servings per day.

Nutritional Benefits From Raw Versus Cooked Cauliflower

Studies show strong nutrient richness in both raw and cooked cauliflower. We’ve been impressed by study results not only in areas involving conventional nutrients like vitamin C but also in areas involving phytonutrients like sulfur-containing compounds and flavonoids. Although there can be loss of water-soluble nutrients during cooking with water or other liquids, there can also be increased bioavailability from the freeing up of nutrients that remained inside the cells in raw cauliflower but got released from those cells during cooking due to the breakdown of cell walls. For example, we’ve seen studies showing increased bioavailability of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin following the cooking of cauliflower. Of course, since the chewing of raw cauliflower could also serve to break down cell walls and make carotenoids more bioavailable, what we end up with here is a “win-win” situation in which both raw and cooked cauliflower can make great nutrient contributions to our health.

This same “win-win” situation appears to hold true for cauliflower’s sulfur-containing compounds. For example, studies have shown that levels of sinigrin—one of the best-studied glucosinolates in cauliflower—decrease as a result of both steaming and boiling. However, alongside of this decrease in sinigrin is significantly improved bioavailability of the sinigrin that still remains inside the cooked cauliflower.

One final note on temperature and the health benefits of cauliflower. A recent study on the freezing of cauliflower has shown its nutrients to be fairly stable after one-year freezer storage. Cauliflower in the study was blanched in near-boiling water for three minutes prior to freezing for one year. Numerous phytonutrients were evaluated in the study, including cauliflower’s sulfur-containing compounds. While nutrients levels were typically reduced after this year of freezer storage, loss of nutrients typically averaged about 15-35%. Although we strongly support purchase of fresh vegetables—including cauliflower—whenever possible, frozen cauliflower may make a second-best option in some meal plans.


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.”)

In the U.S., most cauliflower varieties have been selected for their formation of a fairly large compact head (which is also called the “curd”). The cauliflower head is actually a closely packed arrangement of undeveloped flower buds. Surrounding the curd are ribbed, coarse green leaves that help shield this part of the plant from sunlight. This shielding of the cauliflower head also discourages the development of chlorophyll in the head and is one of the reasons that this portion of the plant is typically not bright green in color. (That being said, there are green varieties of cauliflower available in the marketplace.) The raw cauliflower head tends to be firm yet slightly spongy in texture and can have a slightly sulfur-like flavor, which some people also describe as faintly bitter. However, it is also common for people to describe the cauliflower flavor as nutty and slightly sweet.

Cauliflower and broccoli are so closely related that some naturally occurring varieties of cauliflower are often referred to by both names. Romanesco cauliflower—also called romanesco broccoli—is a perfect example. This variety of Brassica oleracea has a flavor somewhere in between cauliflower and broccoli and a highly distinct appearance in which the compact cauliflower head rises upward in a tree-like or pyramidal shape. Romanesco cauliflower is also sometimes referred to as broccoflower, but this name is more commonly used to refer to yet different cultivars of cauliflower with a green head (or curd). As you can see, it is sometimes difficult to clearly differentiate between cauliflower and broccoli due to the strong biological overlap between these foods. It’s also interesting to note that in most market analyses of broccoli imports and exports, the two foods are grouped together into a single category.

Types of Cauliflower

Color can be a very practical way of separating different varieties of cauliflower into basic types. The chart below shows basic color groupings for cauliflower and specific varieties that belong to each group.

White Green Purple Orange
Snow Cloud Emeraude Graffiti Cheddar
Snowball Vitaverde Violetta Orange Burst
Cloud Green Macerata Purple of Sicily Sunset
Aviso Monte Verde Mulberry