Cauliflower, cultivar unknown
SpeciesBrassica oleracea
Cultivar groupBotrytis Group
OriginNortheast Mediterranean, South Asia
Cultivar group membersMany; see text.
Cauliflower plants growing in a nursery

Cauliflower is one of several vegetables cultivated from the species Brassica oleracea in the genus Brassica, which is in the Brassicaceae (or mustard) family.

An annual plant that reproduces by seed, the cauliflower head is composed of a (generally) white inflorescence meristem. Cauliflower heads resemble those in broccoli, which differs in having flower buds as the edible portion.

Typically, only the head is eaten; the edible white flesh is sometimes called "curd". The global production of cauliflower and broccoli in 2020 was over 25.5 million tons and worth 14.1 billion US dollars.[1]


There are four major groups of cauliflower.[2]

  1. Italian: This specimen is diverse in appearance, biennial, and annual in type. This group includes white, Romanesco, and various brown, green, purple, and yellow cultivars. This type is the ancestral form from which the others were derived.
  2. Northern European annuals: Used in Europe and North America for summer and fall harvest, it was developed in Germany in the 18th century and includes the old cultivars Erfurt and Snowball.
  3. Northwesn biennial: Used in Europe for winter and early spring harvest, developed in France in the 19th century and includes the old cultivars Angers and Roscoff.
  4. Asian: A tropical cauliflower used in China and India, it was developed in India during the 19th century from the now-abandoned Cornish type[3] and includes old varieties Early Benaras and Early Patna.


Cauliflowers are an ‘arrested inflorescence’  subspecies of B. oleracea that arose around 2,500 years ago.[1] Genomic analysis finds initially evolved from broccoli with three MADS-box genes, playing roles in the formation of its curd. Nine loci and candidate genes are linked with morphological and biological characters.[1]


There are hundreds of historic and current commercial varieties used around the world. A comprehensive list of about 80 North American varieties is maintained at North Carolina State University.[4]


White cauliflower is the most common color of cauliflower, having a contrasting white head (also called "curd", having a similar appearance to cheese curd),[5] surrounded by green leaves.[5]
Orange cauliflower contains beta-carotene as the orange pigment, a provitamin A compound. This orange trait originated from a natural mutant found in a cauliflower field in Canada.[6] Cultivars include 'Cheddar' and 'Orange Bouquet.'
Green cauliflower in the B. oleracea Botrytis Group is sometimes called broccoflower. It is available in the normal curd (head) shape and with a fractal spiral curd called Romanesco broccoli. Both have been commercially available in the U.S. and Europe since the early 1990s. Green-headed varieties include 'Alverda,' 'Green Goddess,' and 'Vorda.' Romanesco varieties include 'Minaret' and 'Veronica.'
The purple color in this cauliflower is caused by the presence of anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments that are found in many other plants and plant-based products, such as red cabbage and red wine.[7] Varieties include 'Graffiti' and 'Purple Cape.'
In Great Britain and southern Italy, a broccoli with tiny flower buds is sold as a vegetable under the name "purple cauliflower"; it is not the same as standard cauliflower with a purple head.


Cauliflower contains several non-nutrient phytochemicals common in the cabbage family that are under preliminary research for their potential properties, including isothiocyanates and glucosinolates.[8] Boiling reduces the levels of cauliflower glucosinolates, while other cooking methods, such as steaming, microwaving, and stir frying, have no significant effect on glucosinolate levels.[9]


The word "cauliflower" derives from the Italian cavolfiore, meaning "cabbage flower".[10] The ultimate origin of the name is from the Latin words caulis (cabbage) and flōs (flower).[11]



Cauliflower is the result of selective breeding and likely arose in the Mediterranean region, possibly from broccoli.[12]

Pliny the Elder included cyma among cultivated plants he described in Natural History: "Ex omnibus brassicae generibus suavissima est cyma"[13] ("Of all the varieties of cabbage the most pleasant-tasted is cyma").[14] Pliny's description likely refers to the flowering heads of an earlier cultivated variety of Brassica oleracea.[15]

In the Middle Ages, early forms of cauliflower were associated with the island of Cyprus, with the 12th- and 13th-century Arab botanists Ibn al-'Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar claiming its origin to be Cyprus.[16][17] This association continued into Western Europe, where cauliflowers were sometimes known as Cyprus colewort, and there was extensive trade in western Europe in cauliflower seeds from Cyprus, under the French Lusignan rulers of the island, until well into the 16th century.[18]

It is thought to have been introduced into Italy from Cyprus or the east coast of the Mediterranean around 1490, and then spread to other European countries in the following centuries.[12]

François Pierre La Varenne employed chouxfleurs in Le cuisinier françois.[19] They were introduced to France from Genoa in the 16th century and are featured in Olivier de Serres' Théâtre de l'agriculture (1600), as cauli-fiori "as the Italians call it, which are still rather rare in France; they hold an honorable place in the garden because of their delicacy", [20] but they did not commonly appear on grand tables until the time of Louis XIV.[21] It was introduced to India in 1822 by the British.[22]


Cauliflower production – 2020
Country Production
(millions of tonnes)
 China 9.5
 India 8.8
 United States 1.3
 Spain 0.7
 Mexico 0.7
 Italy 0.4
World 25.5
Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations[23]

In 2020, global production of cauliflowers (combined for production reports with broccoli) was 25.5 million tonnes, led by China and India which, combined, had 72% of the world total.[23] Secondary producers, having 0.4–1.3 million tonnes annually, were the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Italy.[23]


Orange and purple hybrids of cauliflower

Cauliflower is relatively difficult to grow compared to cabbage, with common problems such as an underdeveloped head and poor curd quality.[24]


Because the weather is a limiting factor for producing cauliflower, the plant grows best in moderate daytime temperatures 21–29 °C (70–85 °F), with plentiful sun and moist soil conditions high in organic matter and sandy soils.[5] The earliest maturity possible for cauliflower is 7 to 12 weeks from transplanting.[24] In the northern hemisphere, fall season plantings in July may enable harvesting before autumn frost.[5]

Long periods of sun exposure in hot summer weather may cause cauliflower heads to discolor with a red-purple hue.[5]

Seeding and transplanting

Transplantable cauliflowers can be produced in containers such as flats, hotbeds, or fields. In soil that is loose, well-drained, and fertile, field seedlings are shallow-planted 1 cm (12 in) and thinned by ample space – about 12 plants per 30 cm (1 ft).[5] Ideal growing temperatures are about 18 °C (65 °F) when seedlings are 25 to 35 days old.[5] Applications of fertilizer to developing seedlings begin when leaves appear, usually with a starter solution weekly.

Transplanting to the field normally begins in late spring and may continue until mid-summer. Row spacing is about 38–46 cm (15–18 in). Rapid vegetative growth after transplanting may benefit from such procedures as avoiding spring frosts, using starter solutions high in phosphorus, irrigating weekly, and applying fertilizer.[5]

Disorders, pests, and diseases

The most important disorders affecting cauliflower quality are a hollow stem, stunted head growth or buttoning, ricing, browning, and leaf-tip burn.[5] Among major pests affecting cauliflower are aphids, root maggots, cutworms, moths, and flea beetles.[24] The plant is susceptible to black rot, black leg, club root, black leaf spot, and downy mildew.[5]


When cauliflower is mature, heads appear clear white, compact, and 15–20 cm (6–8 in) in diameter, and should be cooled shortly after harvest.[5] Forced air cooling to remove heat from the field during hot weather may be needed for optimal preservation. Short-term storage is possible using cool, high-humidity storage conditions.[5]


Many species of blowflies, including Calliphora vomitoria, are known pollinators of cauliflower.[25]



Korean fried cauliflower

Cauliflower heads can be roasted, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, pickled, or eaten raw. When cooking, the outer leaves and thick stalks are typically removed, leaving only the florets (the edible "curd" or "head"). The leaves are also edible but are often discarded.[26]

Cauliflower can be used as a low-calorie, gluten-free alternative to rice and flour. Between 2012 and 2016, cauliflower production in the United States increased by 63%, and cauliflower-based product sales increased by 71% between 2017 and 2018. Cauliflower rice is made by pulsing cauliflower florets and cooking the result in oil.[27][28] Cauliflower pizza crust is made from cauliflower flour and is popular in pizza restaurants.[29] Mashed cauliflower is a low-carbohydrate alternative to mashed potatoes.[30]


Cauliflower, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy104 kJ (25 kcal)
5 g
Sugars1.9 g
Dietary fiber2 g
0.3 g
1.9 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.05 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.06 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.507 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.667 mg
Vitamin B6
0.184 mg
Folate (B9)
57 μg
Vitamin C
48.2 mg
Vitamin E
0.08 mg
Vitamin K
15.5 μg
22 mg
0.42 mg
15 mg
0.155 mg
44 mg
299 mg
30 mg
0.27 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water92 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[31] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[32]

Raw cauliflower is 92% water, 5% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and contains negligible fat (see table). A 100-gram (3+12-ounce) reference amount of raw cauliflower provides 104 kilojoules (25 kilocalories) of food energy, and has a high content (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin C (58% DV) and moderate levels of several B vitamins and vitamin K (13–15% DV; table). Contents of dietary minerals are low (7% DV or less).

In culture

See also: Romanesco broccoli § Fractal structure

Cauliflower has been noticed by mathematicians for its distinct fractal dimension,[33][34] calculated to be roughly 2.8.[35][36] One of the fractal properties of cauliflower is that every branch, or "module", is similar to the entire cauliflower. Another quality, also present in other plant species, is that the angle between "modules", as they become more distant from the center, is 360 degrees divided by the golden ratio.[37]

The fancied resemblance of the shape of a boxer's ear to a cauliflower gave rise to the term "cauliflower ear".


See also


  1. ^ a b c Chen, Rui; Chen, Ke; Yao, Xingwei; Zhang, Xiaoli; Yang, Yingxia; Su, Xiao; Lyu, Mingjie; Wang, Qian; Zhang, Guan; Wang, Mengmeng; Li, Yanhao; Duan, Lijin; Xie, Tianyu; Li, Haichao; Yang, Yuyao; Zhang, Hong; Guo, Yutong; Jia, Guiying; Ge, Xianhong; Sarris, Panagiotis F.; Lin, Tao; Sun, Deling (2024). "Genomic analyses reveal the stepwise domestication and genetic mechanism of curd biogenesis in cauliflower". Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/s41588-024-01744-4. ISSN 1061-4036. PMID 38714866.
  2. ^ Crisp, P. (1982). "The use of an evolutionary scheme for cauliflowers in screening of genetic resources". Euphytica. 31 (3): 725. doi:10.1007/BF00039211. S2CID 37686274.
  3. ^ Swarup, V.; Chatterjee, S.S. (1972). "Origin and genetic improvement of Indian cauliflower". Economic Botany. 26 (4): 381–393. doi:10.1007/BF02860710. S2CID 37487958.
  4. ^ Farnham, M. (2007). "Vegetable Cultivar Descriptions for North America:Cauliflower". Retrieved 19 September 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Vincent A. Fritz; Carl J. Rosen; Michelle A. Grabowski; William D. Hutchison; Roger L. Becker; Cindy Tong; Jerry A. Wright & Terry T. Nennich (2017). "Growing broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in Minnesota". University of Minnesota Extension, Garden – Growing Vegetables. Archived from the original on 27 February 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  6. ^ Dickson, M.H.; Lee C.Y.; Blamble A.E. (1988). "Orange-curd high carotene cauliflower inbreds, NY 156, NY 163, and NY 165". HortScience. 23 (4): 778–779. doi:10.21273/HORTSCI.23.4.778. S2CID 88716744.
  7. ^ Chiu, L.; Prior, R.L.; Wu, X.; Li, L. (16 July 2005). "Toward Identification of the Candidate Gene Controlling Anthocyanin Accumulation in Purple Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L. var. botrytis)". American Society of Plant Biologists Annual Meeting. p. 628.
  8. ^ Ishida M, Hara M, Fukino N, Kakizaki T, Morimitsu Y (2014). "Glucosinolate metabolism, functionality, and breeding for the improvement of Brassicaceae vegetables". Breeding Science. 64 (1): 48–59. doi:10.1270/jsbbs.64.48. PMC 4031110. PMID 24987290.
  9. ^ Nugrahedi, Probo Y.; Verkerk, Ruud; Widianarko, Budi; Dekker, Matthijs (2015). "A Mechanistic Perspective on Process-Induced Changes in Glucosinolate Content in Brassica Vegetables: A Review". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 55 (6): 823–838. doi:10.1080/10408398.2012.688076. ISSN 1040-8398. PMID 24915330. S2CID 25728864.
  10. ^ "cauliflower". Dictionary of English. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Cauliflower: definition". 2006. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  12. ^ a b Branca, F. (2008). "Cauliflower and Broccoli". In Prohens, J.; Nuez, F. (eds.). Vegetables I. Handbook of Plant Breeding. Vol. 1. New York: Springer. pp. 151–186. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-30443-4_5. ISBN 978-0-387-30443-4.
  13. ^ Pliny (the Elder) (1841). Weise, C.H. (ed.). Historiae Naturalis Libri XX (in Latin). p. 249.
  14. ^ Rackham, H., ed. (1949). "XXXV". Pliny's Natural History. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  15. ^ Crozier, Arthur Alger (1891). The Cauliflower. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Register Publishing Co. p. 12.
  16. ^ "Cabbage Flowers for Food". Aggie Horticulture. Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  17. ^ Fenwick, G. Roger; Heaney, Robert K.; Mullin, W. John; VanEtten, Cecil H. (1982). "Glucosinolates and their breakdown products in food and food plants". CRC Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 18 (2): 123–201. doi:10.1080/10408398209527361. PMID 6337782.
  18. ^ Jon Gregerson, Good Earth (Portland: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 1990) p.41
  19. ^ Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham (1996) Savoring the Past: the French kitchen and table from 1300 to 1789, Touchstone, p. 118, ISBN 0-684-81857-4.
  20. ^ Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham (1996) Savoring the Past: the French kitchen and table from 1300 to 1789, Touchstone, p. 66, ISBN 0-684-81857-4.
  21. ^ Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne (2009) A History of Food, 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, pp. 625f, ISBN 1-4443-0514-X.
  22. ^ Vegetable Crops. New India Publishing. 1 January 2007. p. 209. ISBN 978-81-89422-41-7.
  23. ^ a b c "Production/Crops, Quantities by Country for Cauliflowers and Broccoli for 2016". Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). 2016. Archived from the original on 22 November 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  24. ^ a b c "Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Other Brassica Crops". Massachusetts: Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, College of Natural Sciences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 14 January 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  25. ^ Wolf, Jan M. Van Der; Zouwen, Patricia S. Van Der (2010). "Colonization of Cauliflower Blossom (Brassica oleracea) by Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris, via Flies (Calliphora vomitoria), Can Result in Seed Infestation". Journal of Phytopathology. 158 (11–12): 726–732. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0434.2010.01690.x. ISSN 1439-0434.
  26. ^ Grout, B. W. W. (1988). "Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis L.)". In Bajaj, Y. P. S. (ed.). Crops II. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry. Vol. 6. Springer. pp. 211–225. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-73520-2_10. ISBN 978-3-642-73520-2.
  27. ^ Gajanan, Mahita (14 July 2017). "Why Cauliflower Is the New 'It' Vegetable". Time. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  28. ^ Koman, Tess (15 July 2019). "Why Is Cauliflower Still Literally Everywhere?". Delish. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  29. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (8 June 2018). "The Ascension of Cauliflower". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  30. ^ Brzostowski, Cindy (19 March 2021). "As Cauliflower's Popularity Holds, Breadcrumb Alternative Cauli Crunch Enters The Scene". Forbes. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  31. ^ United States Food and Drug Administration (2024). "Daily Value on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels". Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  32. ^ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium (2019). Oria, Maria; Harrison, Meghan; Stallings, Virginia A. (eds.). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press (US). ISBN 978-0-309-48834-1. PMID 30844154.
  33. ^ Walker, John. (2005-03-22) Fractal Food. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  34. ^ Description of the Julia sets of the cabbage fractal. Retrieved on 2013-09-03.
  35. ^ Kim, Sang-Hoon (2004). "Fractal Structure of a White Cauliflower" (PDF). Journal of the Korean Physical Society. 46 (2): 474–477. arXiv:cond-mat/0409763. Bibcode:2004cond.mat..9763K.
  36. ^ Kim, Sang-Hoon (2004). "Fractal dimensions of a green broccoli and a white cauliflower". arXiv:cond-mat/0411597.
  37. ^ "Romanesco cauliflower is a striking example of fractals". The Washington Post.

Further reading