Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Orange, yellow, green, purple, cream.. ..these are the colors of cauliflower that you can now find at your farmers’ market and in some West Michigan gardens.
These colorful cauliflower are not genetically modified (GMO) or chemically altered. They have been found naturally in various areas of the world, and in some cases crossed with the traditional white cauliflower creating a hybrid.
The orange cauliflower, for example, was found in Canada around 1970. It’s orange color is due to the extra beta- carotene, up to 25% more than the traditional white cauliflower you may be most familiar with.
Similarly, the purple cauliflower is high in anthocyanins, an antioxidant found in red wine. The origin of the purple cauliflower is not known, although it is found in Italian recipe books in the 1940s. In Italy, the purple cauliflower goes by fanciful names like Sicilian Violet and Violet Queen.
All the colorful cauliflower heads are higher in nutritional value than their plain cousin, the white cauliflower. Maybe because of the multi-colored attraction, sales of locally grown cauliflowers have increased by 70 percent in recent years.
As for growing it yourself, the seeds are available from heirloom seed catalogs, like Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Missouri. But be forewarned, cauliflower has a long growing season, almost four months, and it requires rich soil, abundant moisture and cool weather. If you're lucky, you might find seedlings for transplant at your neighborhood nursery in the spring.
Personally, I was never a fan of cauliflower until it began selling as a substitute for potatoes and rice. Once I found cauliflower hash browns in the freezer section of my local grocery store, I was hooked. From there I graduated to making my own hash browns from the multitude of colorful cauliflower heads available. And next summer, I plan to buy some purple colored cauliflower seeds and give it a try in the garden.
And for you math nerds out there, cauliflower heads are a study in fractals. The green headed cauliflower, for example, exhibits the logarithmic Fibonacci spiral. And if any of you know what that means, I would appreciate a layman’s explanation.