Cauliflower vs. Broccoli

This is a close look at fresh cauliflower and broccoli in a woven basket.

Cauliflower and broccoli have enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity in the last decade.  The two formerly plain step-sisters of the vegetable world have emerged like Cinderella as the belles of the ball as we’ve learned about their health benefits and versatility.

They share many similarities, coming from the same vegetable family, but there are also some differences.

The main differences between cauliflower and broccoli are their tastes, colors, and structures. Broccoli has dark green stalks and flower heads that spread out slightly. It has an earthy taste with a hint of bitterness.  Cauliflower is white with densely packed florets and a mildly sweet flavor.

So what has fuelled the popularity of these two vegetables? What makes cauliflower and broccoli so healthy that nutritionists strongly recommend them? And what are the best ways to eat and cook these veggies to retain those health benefits? Let’s explore.

Cauliflower vs. Broccoli: Who Wins The Popularity Contest?

This is a close look at a plate of fresh pieces of broccoli.

And the winner is…

Broccoli wins by a decisive majority in the USA! Green Giant, the iconic vegetable company, surveyed 5366 American consumers aged 18 to 72 in 2021. It found that broccoli remains America’s favorite vegetable. All the consumers who selected broccoli noted that “taste” was the factor that influenced their choice.

This result is perhaps unexpected given that broccoli is so divisive, with some people loving it and others (such as former President George Bush) hating it. It has been a source of food since the Roman Empire and became a popular food in the USA when Southern Italian immigrants brought it with them in the early 1920s.

Consumption of broccoli has tripled over the past 30 years in North America.

But what about the “cauliflower craze”?

Baked cauliflower with herbs and spices in a baking pan.

The cauliflower craze started around 2008 when gluten-free eating was becoming widespread. Cauliflower became one of the replacements for people seeking substantial alternatives to what they’d been eating before. Carbo-averse eaters and dieters were also searching for alternatives to white rice and gluten-filled grains.

When other food trends such as keto, paleo, vegan, and plant-based eating emerged, cauliflower grew ever more popular as it ticked all the boxes. But other cruciferous vegetables would also have been suitable, so what is it about cauliflower that has made it so popular?

It’s the “moldability” of cauliflower. 

Tess Koman describes this characteristic so well: “…not every other vegetable is as easily moldable as cauliflower is. Want rice but don’t want rice? There’s a cauliflower product for that.

Want steak but don’t want steak? You can also treat cauliflower that way. Want gnocchi but don’t want gnocchi? Yuuup, it works for that, too. Want pizza but don’t want piz—you get it.”

Health Benefits Of Cauliflower Vs. Broccoli

This is an illustration of the health benefits of cauliflower.

Both cauliflower and broccoli have substantial nutritional benefits, such as being rich in vitamin C. Did you know that one small head of cauliflower contains more than 125 mg of vitamin C, nearly twice as much as a medium orange?

Both are cruciferous vegetables. There’s a correlation between intakes of those vegetables with a decrease in most types of cancer.  Cauliflower and broccoli contain substances known as glucosinolates. 

During digestion, the glucosinolates are broken up into various combinations that can help protect our cells and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.

Both cauliflower and broccoli are loaded with fiber and water which helps maintain healthy digestion and bowel regularity and reduces heart-related health risks and cholesterol levels.

This is an illustration of the health benefits of broccoli.

Broccoli’s rich green color gives it an advantage over cauliflower in one aspect. Green vegetables are good at supporting our immune systems and detoxifying organs as well as providing energy. Broccoli also contains vitamin A which is not present in cauliflower.

On the other hand, white vegetables like cauliflower are known for their bone benefits.

Comparing one cup of raw chopped cauliflower with a similar measure of broccoli, we find the cauliflower has slightly more sugar than broccoli. Broccoli has more protein, vitamins B6, K, and C, calcium, and iron. But these differences are tiny, and both vegetables are very healthy.

Cauliflower vs. Broccoli: Better Raw Or Cooked?

This is a plate of steamed broccoli and cauliflowers.

Both cauliflower and broccoli can be eaten raw or cooked, and there are advantages and drawbacks to each.

If you do eat them raw, freshness is the key.  This is because there has to be a specific enzyme in the vegetables to enable the nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies. The enzyme becomes inefficient 48 hours after the vegetable has been picked.

On the negative side, the fibers raffinose and cellulose in cauliflower and broccoli can cause problems like bloating and gas in some people. In that case, it’s easier on the digestive system if the vegetables are cooked.

Boiling or blanching cauliflower and broccoli causes the nutrients to be “leached” into the water. The result is a significant loss of minerals and antioxidant compounds.  Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C will simply dissolve.

Boiling changes these vegetables in ways that will hinder the body’s ability to absorb glucosinolates, which help prevent cancer.

Steaming cauliflower and broccoli is one of the healthiest ways to cook them. Steamed, they are more likely to reduce cholesterol levels than if eaten raw.  Some of the nutrients will travel to the end of the digestive tract improving the health and diversity of our gut microbes.

This is good for treating conditions like obesity, diabetes, and inflammation linked to autoimmune diseases.

Steamed cauliflower and broccoli will not hinder the body’s process of absorbing cancer-preventing substances.

Can One Eat The Stems and Leaves of Cauliflower and Broccoli?

This is a close look at a broccoli and a cauliflower with leaves.

Yes, the stems and leaves of cauliflower and broccoli are tasty and nutritious.  They should not end up in waste!

When preparing the stalks, the fibrous outer layer should be removed. This can be done as you would prep a carrot, using a vegetable peeler.  You can then slice and dice the stem as you want and use it with the florets.

Broccoli leaves have a similar taste to collards or kale.  You can prep them by cutting away the center midrib of the leaf with a sharp knife.  Even the midrib can be eaten, but you have to give it a head start in the cooking process as it takes longer than the rest of the leaf to soften.

The cauliflower leaves on the outer side of the plant can be treated in the same way as broccoli leaves. The leaves closer to the head are more tender, and you don’t need to remove the midrib.

Ways of using the stalks and leaves of cauliflower and broccoli (in addition to steaming them):

  • Roasting: peeled leaves and stems, drizzled with olive oil, can be roasted with the florets. The leaves will crisp, and the stems will become tender.
  • Stir-frying: the stalks and leaves of cauliflower and broccoli will work well in a stir-fry.
  • Slaw: shred the broccoli stems and add them to a slaw, drizzled with your favorite dressing.
  • Soup: Peel and simmer the stems along with the florets when you make soup for some extra flavor.
  • Pickle: Stalks can be used for pickling. This makes a delicious snack.
  • Ricing: if you “rice” cauliflower to lower your carb intake, you can grind up the stalks as well. Ricing involves grating a cauliflower head on a box grater or chopping it in a food processor. These “pieces” are used in place of rice.
  • Braising: you can braisecauliflower and broccoli leaves and stems the same way as other leafy greens.

Cauliflower And Broccoli Recipes

This is a close look at freshly baked broccoli and cauliflower with herbs and spices.

Cauliflower must be one of the most versatile ingredients available. It can be made to taste like just about anything.  There are so many recipe ideas to inspire you. Here are a few from Jamie Oliver’s website:

  • Creamy paneer and veg curry
  • Spiced cauliflower rice pie
  • Harissa cauliflower traybake
  • Greek-inspired cauliflower stew
  • Spicy beef and cauli rice
  • Roasted cauliflower and coconut soup
  • Healthy chicken Caesar
  • Michel’s cauliflower, apple, and sweet potato
  • Spicy whole roast cauliflower

Broccoli is also very versatile veg that can be hidden (if your kids/partner don’t particularly like it), or it can be the star of the show. Here are some ideas from The Food Network:

  • Potato, sausage, and broccoli frittata
  • Brie and broccoli quiche
  • Broccoli cheese soup
  • Parmesan roasted broccoli
  • Whole30 sesame chicken and broccoli rice
  • Stir-fried broccoli stems
  • Broccoli Gratin
  • Broccoli salad.

Conclusion

Cauliflower and broccoli have tremendous nutrient value when eaten raw or cooked in the right way. These humble vegetables are nutritional power-houses, and play a vital role in helping us live healthy lives. In the past, many people regarded them as rather dull side dishes, bland or mushy. 

As we’ve learned about their versatility and “moldability,” they’ve transitioned to becoming stunning sides and main dishes: the belles of the food ball!

References:

Delish: Will Cauliflower Trend Die

Jamie Oliver: Cauliflower Recipes

Food Network: Broccoli

Web MD: Health Benefits of Cauliflower

Foodstruct: Broccoli vs. Cauliflower

Healthline: Broccoli vs. Cauliflower

Psychology Today: Raw or Cooked: How Best to Eat 11 Fruits and Vegetables

Foods Guy: Difference Between Cauliflower and Broccoli

Taste: Proof That Cauliflower is the Worlds Most Versatile Vegetable

Foodprint: How to Use Broccoli and Cauliflower Stems and Leaves

Time: Cauliflower Rice Menu

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