If you've ever prepared a crudité platter, you'll understand how tricky it is to prevent cauliflower from discoloration! Here are four things you can do in your own kitchen to prevent the discoloration of cauliflower.
Have you ever cooked a beautiful head of cauliflower, only to have it turn a yucky shade of yellow or brown? Here you'll learn why it turns brown and how to prevent it!
Why does cauliflower discolor?
- All plants, fruits and vegetables have pigments that give them their vibrant colors and these pigments change for various reasons.
- Cauliflower is a flavanoid of the anthoxanthin group, which is a group of "white" pigmented foods--potatoes, onions, cauliflower and pears.
- In acidic environments, these foods are white; at a neutral pH they're creamy white; in alkaline environments they are yellow.
- Cauliflower turns brown due to exposure to oxygen and lack of acidity during the cooking process.
4 Tips to Prevent Cauliflower from Discoloration
Cauliflower, bananas, apples, avocados, potatoes-we've all seen these foods turn brown when they've been left out too long. The pigments respond to the environment, and cauliflower turns grayish brown due to several factors:
- pH level of the cooking water
- type of knife used
- type of cookware used
- degree of exposure to oxygen
How to test and change the pH level of water
Test the pH of tap water:
The easiest way to test the pH level of your tap water is to use litmus paper strips. These can be found at any pool store or ordered online.
Just dip the strip into the water; wait a few minutes, then compare the color on the paper to the chart on the bottle.
How to change the pH of tap water:
- The pH (potential of Hydrogen) is a scale from 0 - 14 where 0 is highly acidic and 14 is highly alkaline.
- Most tap and bottled drinking waters are around 6.5 - 8.0 on the pH scale. As you can see, neither of these is highly acidic, nor are they high in alkalinity.
- Cauliflower has a natural pH balance around 6.5 - 6.8.
- But in order to keep cauliflower white, we must increase the acidity of the water to 5.5-7.5
- This is easily done by adding lemon juice or vinegar to the water-neither will impact the flavor of the cauliflower.
Type of knife used to cut cauliflower
- Another measure to ensure white cauliflower is to use a stainless steel knife.
- Most knives on the market are stainless steel, but it's worth mentioning here because aluminum, tin, copper, iron and steel (not stainless steel) are reactive metals that interact with the pH of cauliflower and contribute to its yellowing or browning.
Type of cookware
- Cook cauliflower in any non-aluminum pan made of stainless steel, copper or cast-iron-these are ideal for steaming, sautéeing or searing cauliflower.
- Avoid pans that have a "non-stick" coating as the "coating" often affects the flavor and color of the vegetable.
Reduce exposure to oxygen
- Fruits and vegetables often discolor when exposed to oxygen.
- The oxidation process naturally turns bananas and avocados brown, as well as cauliflower! The objective when cooking and storing cauliflower is to minimize exposure to air.
How to store properly cauliflower so it won't turn brown
- If you buy a head of cauliflower in advance, store it in the vegetable bin loosely wrapped.
- Place a dry paper towel in the wrapper to absorb any moisture and loosen the wrapper to allow the sulphurous gases to escape.
How to store cauliflower florets
- If you cut the florets off the cauliflower head, first pat them with a paper towel to dry.
- Then, place a dry paper towel in the plastic bag and place them in a loosely tied plastic bag
- The dry paper towel absorbs any moisture, prevents molding and discoloration.
- You can safely store whole or cut cauliflower up to 3 days in a refrigerator that is 42ºF.
How to cook cauliflower
- Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be cooked in a variety of ways. Our Grandmothers used to "boil-the-dickens" out of vegetables till they were almost too tender.
- Unfortunately, over-boiling removes a majority of the vitamins and nutrients these vegetables offer and the vegetable gets mushy.
- Nowdays, nutritionist recommend steaming, quick-sauteeing or roasting vegetables in order to retain their nutritional value, crisp texture and prevent discoloration during the cooking process.
- Sprinkle lemon or vinegar over cauliflower head
- Bring a large pot of water to boil; add lemon or vinegar
- Place steamer basket in water
- Cook uncovered for 3-minutes then place a lid ajar over the cooking pot (this allows gases to escape and minimizes exposure to oxygen); cook 15-20 minutes, or until it's fork tender
- Remove cauliflower head and allow to drain
- Slice florets off using a stainless steel knife and serve
- Cut florets away from cauliflower head; cover with dish towel
- On medium-high heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sautee pan
- Put florets in pan flat-side down; cook for 2-minutes uncovered then place lid on pan
- Cook covered for 5 minutes
- Remove lid and continue to cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Remove cauliflower florets from pan and drain on paper towel
- Season and serve
- Preheat oven to 400ºF
- Lightly oil baking sheet
- Place baking sheet in oven on middle rack for 8-minutes
- Cut florets off cauliflower and place in large bowl; drizzle olive oil over cauliflower; toss until coated; lightly season with salt and pepper
- Remove hot baking sheet from oven
- Place florets in a single layer onto sheet, flat-side down
- Return baking sheet to oven
- Roast cauliflower 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender
Serving Cooked and Raw Cauliflower
If you plan to serve raw cauliflower immediately, you'll want to "blanch" it first.
How to blanch cauliflower
Boil it for 3-minutes in acidic water (2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar) then immediately submerge it in ice cold water for 2-minutes.
- If you plan to serve raw cauliflower at a later date, loosely wrap blanched cauliflower head in plastic wrap with a paper towel, and store in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator.
- Do not slice it until ready to serve-this will help to prevent discoloration.
- If you steam a head of cauliflower, add a little lemon or vinegar (2-3 tablespoons) to the water and keep the entire head intact. This allows the internal parts of the cauliflower to cook till tender and remain a vibrant white color.
How to cook previously blanched cauliflower
- If you've prepped (blanched) and stored cauliflower, but want to serve it hot, use either the saute method or roasting method.
- You can steam previously blanched cauliflower, but I've found it turns out mushy.
How do I know when cauliflower is done?
- Generally speaking, a whole head of cauliflower is done after it has steamed for about 15-20 minutes.
- The florets should be semi-tender when pierced with a fork.
- Florets cook much faster than a whole head because there's more surface volume-florets are usually done in 3-6 minutes.
How to select cauliflower
- Choose the brightest, whitest, firmest head
- Look closely for brown spots - try to avoid buying a head of cauliflower that has a lot of brown or mold on it
- If you find one with a little brown on it, you can cut that off and the vegetable is still safe to eat
- Choose from the back of the bin - remember, this cruciferous vegetable doesn't like to be stored under light or in open air; by selecting cauliflower from the back of the bin, you minimize exposure to light and oxygen
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Easy, Cheesy Cauliflower
- Large stockpot
- Steam basket (optional)
- Tongs (optional)
- 1 head cauliflower , cut in quarters
- 1 cup lemon juice , fresh; divided
- 3 tablespoons salt , kosher
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup flour , all-purpose
- 1 cup milk , 2%
- 8 ounces cheddar cheese , shredded
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring 2 quarts of water to hard boil; add ½ cup fresh lemon juice and salt to water
- Remove stem and leaves from cauliflower; rinse; pat dry thoroughly
- Use a stainless steel knife and cut head into quarters
- Pour remaining ½ cup of lemon juice into large bowl; toss cauliflower quarters until coated well; cover with dish towel until ready to cook
- Place quartered parts into boiling water; cook uncovered for 3-minutes
- Place lid over pot (ajar or tilted, allowing some steam to escape); cook covered 15-20 minutes until it's fork tender; use tongs to remove from water; drain and serve with sauce
- While the cauliflower is cooking, make the sauce: melt butter in saucepan on low heat
- Whisk in flour and combine
- Add milk in ½ cup increments, continuing to whisk and cook
- Add shredded cheese in increments (handfuls); continue to stir and cook
- Once cheese is thoroughly melted, remove from heat; add vinegar; season to taste and drizzle over cauliflower
- You can use a steam basket or submerge vegetable in water, either way
- Steaming may take a few minutes longer
- The sauce recipe yields 2 cups of cheese sauce