The Cauliflower Chronicles

I must admit that for quite a prolonged period of time cauliflower somewhat fell of my radar, possibly due to my slight obsession with broccoli (don’t question it just read on) as I almost saw them as interchangeable on a plate, no more however!

About 2 months ago however I found myself at a particularly rainy, freezing cold farmers market and in a fit of creative defiance I eschewed my usual choices, opting instead for those less familiar acquaintances of the produce world. Of I toddled laden with (amongst other things) Brussels tops, beautiful banana shallots and the world’s cutest button of a cauliflower. And that as they say, was that.

With the onslaught of January convenience obviously became the most important consideration when it came to meals and thus I entered into a seemingly endless cycle of stir fries. Now this is not to say that stir fry is anything to be down about, I still average at least one a week as the possibilities of this dish are literally endless depending on what you have knocking about in the fridge and which protein you choose to accompany your symphony of savoury staples. Are you a lime or lemon based marinader? Can you be bothered to chop garlic/ginger/chillies? Are there fresh herbs involved? (I could continue but my primary school English teacher is already shaking her finger at the structure of that sentence) Anyway lets just say the creative flair of a stir fry is one thing but at some point there is a threshold which does not allow for true reflection of the versatility of this beautifully bleached brassica.

I think this is probably a good point at which to pause on my produce purchasing perambulations and spend a few moments chatting specific health benefits of my bud broccoli’s albino ally.

So as I mentioned before, caulis belong to the Brassica/Cruciferous vegetable clan along with the cabbages, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choi and green leafy guys of the world. The reason us nutrition nonces harp on about these babies is because they are absolutely awesome sources of a multitude of micronutrients (pretty much every vitamin and mineral you could shake a stick at) whilst also being a fabulous source of fibre and bursting at the seams with antioxidants. Good ey?

Sadly for cauliflower it is actually the least studied of all the cruciferae (I’m tearing up at the injustice) but diving into its particular accolades in greater depth we find more emerging research linking this veggie to cancer support and prevention (bladder, breast, colon, prostate and ovarian in particular). This is because the nutrient profile of cauliflower acts to support 3 of the body’s main defence systems against cancer; its detoxification ability, its antioxidant capacity and the immune/inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances of any of these being implicated in cancer development and progression.

Firstly detox support.

The majority of toxins (including medicines, environmental pollutants and pesticides to name but a few) will travel to the liver to be processed for elimination. This occurs in a number of stages all of which require different nutrients as co-factors and our compatriot cauliflower provides them without question. The identification of a specific phytonutrient group known as glucosinolates also contributes to this hugely important activity. These are the ones also found in other cruciferous veggies and although the levels found in cauliflower are lower than other members of this family (1/4 of the amount in Brussels sprouts, 60% that of broccoli or 70% found in kale) the content is still significant from a health promoting stand point.

Very much interlinked with this is cauliflower’s contribution to our antioxidant capabilities. As a superb source of Vitamin C and Manganese it gives us 2 core chain breaking antioxidants (these literally stop those pesky free radicals in their tracks by donating electrons to satisfy their needs without becoming damaging themselves). But this is not the limit of cauliflower’s prowess in this area, oh no! In addition to giving us the equivalent of a brand new microfibre dish cloth to soak up those bull in a china shop bandits, this calmitive comrade extends his reach further into the realm of the phytonutrients giving us those less conventional antioxidants too. Examples of such include beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, quercetin, rutin and kaempferol (again we could continue but I feel many may just be blankly looking at those previous words! Basically we really want them and cauliflower is just giving them away). By flooding our systems with these wondrous compounds cauliflower bolsters our reserves in the continuous battle against oxidative stress, which if left unchecked is pretty much the underlying cause in all chronic disease.

I hope you’re all still with me in my love affair, only a couple more points I promise before we dive into my new, exciting and downright delicious dalliances of late.

The next highlight is the Vitamin K content. A hallmark of the anti-inflammatory clan Vitamin K acts directly to regulate our inflammatory response. This works in tandem with one of the glucosinolates we mentioned earlier (Glucobrassicin if you want to get all specific about it) which can be converted into another molecule known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C is special as it is able to act as an anti-inflammatory on a genetic level and thus can halt inflammatory responses at a very early stage. In the same way that chronic oxidative stress or weakened detox ability can massively increase our risk of illness, chronic inflammation will do the same, so get munching on your cauliflower crudites quick sharp!

Whilst we’re on the subject of inflammation we should quickly touch on the cardiovascular system. Originally considered unrelated, it is now widely recognised that the over activity of the immune system with this survival mechanism is central in the progression of cardiovascular disease and associated pathologies of the circulatory system. In addition to the protection provided by Vitamin K and I3C another glucosinolate (Glucoraphanin this time) is of particular interest as it can be converted to Sulforaphane. This is because Sulforaphane is seen to trigger anti-inflammatory activity within the cardiovascular system in particular, there is even suggestion it may not only help to prevent blood vessel damage but could also reverse it too. Fab news!

And that’s not where it ends with the Sulforaphane. As well as protecting your heart it is also known to guard your digestive system from overgrowth of a particular bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori. Now this little beast may be microscopic but you seriously do not want it getting out of hand. I’m talking gastritis, ulcers and other horrible stomach situations, best we keep him in check and all with a few little florets! 🙂

As with many things in the food research realm studies into other applications of cauliflower continue. Current promising results are being seen with Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, insulin resistance, IBS, obesity, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type II diabetes. Watch this space!

So I would say that might bring us to the limit of some people’s interest in the finer points of this pearl of the produce world, and never being one to outstay my welcome I think it’s high time we talk about the tastier side of life. The recipes I have for you today are 3 of my new favourite ways to enjoy this guy, they are all quick, easy and satisfying (with the additional benefit of being lower in calories, sneaking an additional serving of veg into your meal without you even noticing and not sacrificing on flavour or texture in anyway. I may even suggest an enhancement in some cases…..) I hope I have succeeded in winning you round to my cauliflower corner and you enjoy dabbling in it’s endless applications as much as I do.

As always I recommend using organic ingredients wherever possible.

Click the links below to be whisked off to the full recipes –>

Cauliflower Pizza Tortillas

Herby Cauli Rice Salad with Lemon Mustard Dressing