Orange, green, purple cauliflower pack more nutrition and visual zing than the basic white variety

Most of us are familiar with cauliflower in a single form: that ubiquitous head of white florets found in nearly every grocery store in the country. But cauliflower is increasingly available in a wide range of colors and varieties, and there’s a good reason to get familiar with them all.

Walk into Central Market and you’re likely to find cauliflower in shades of purple, green and orange. They all the taste almost the same, but they each have different nutritional benefits from their more common white counterpart. This week we’re going to spell those out and put them to use in four different recipes. And you shouldn’t have trouble finding them at better stocked supermarkets as cauliflower is a year-round crop with a peak season in colder months.

Purple cauliflower: The dramatic color in this variety of cauliflower comes from the presence of anthocyanin, the same pigment found in blueberries, black rice, black beans and many other foods with a deep purple or nearly black color.

Anthocyanin has a “demonstrated ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases,” according to the National Institutes of Health, including a “marked ability to reduce cancer cell proliferation and to inhibit tumor formation” in research trials.

Because purple cauliflower’s pigment is water-soluble, it can easily leach out into liquids. To keep that hue vibrant, use purple cauliflower in raw dishes or quick sautees.

Green cauliflower: Also called broccoflower, you’ll find this cross of broccoli and cauliflower in two forms. The first has the shape of a traditional head of cauliflower. The second, and less common, is often sold as Romanesco broccoli, and has florets that grow in a distinct spiral pattern. Both varieties have almost twice the vitamin C found in white cauliflower.

Green cauliflower does have similar cooking properties to broccoli in that it will turn a dull green or nearly brown color if overcooked. But like broccoli, its chlorophyll — that’s where the color comes from — will turn a more pleasant shade of bright green when sauteed or roasted.

Orange cauliflower: Also called “cheddar cauliflower,” this striking head’s color comes not from cheese, but a significant amount of beta carotene — the same nutrient found in carrots — which also gives orange cauliflower about 25 percent more vitamin A than white cauliflower.

Orange cauliflower will hold its color better than purple and green varieties when cooking, making it a good choice for stewing or other longer-simmered dishes.

As for using these varieties in the kitchen, we’ve whipped up four recipes that can work with any type of cauliflower but have made specific recommendations for each.

Our Shaved Purple Cauliflower Salad leaves the cauliflower in a raw state, allowing it’s purple hue to shine through. This salad is remarkably fragrant, loaded with sizzled coriander and fennel seeds and charred lemon.

Green cauliflower takes on a deeply caramelized flavor while keeping most of its color intact in our Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower. While this dish is vegetarian, the savory and nutty flavor the cauliflower develops in the oven makes this taste like a hearty dinner any carnivore could appreciate.

San Antonians likely will appreciate a classic cauliflower curry from Afghanistan called gulpea. While the dish is spiked with a generous amount of turmeric, much of the flavor comes from the familiar tastes of coriander, garlic, tomato and jalapeño chiles.

And we’re not leaving white cauliflower out of the party, either. We’ve gently steamed it and pureed that into a tart, creamy dip made with yogurt, lemon juice and a touch of cumin. The result is similar to hummus, but significantly lighter in calories. We’re scooping that dip up with slightly bitter Belgian endive leaves for a perfect contrast of flavors. | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen

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