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Flowered cabbage

Cauliflower is rich in antioxidants, Vitamin C and some micronutrients like folate. Don't overcook it lest the vitamin and folate content is destroyed.

Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

PUFFED UP: Experiment with lightly steamed cauliflower dishes.

Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.

Mark Twain

TWAIN WAS right. The cauliflower is really a puffed up cabbage. In a wider sense, it is a member of the mustard family. Its near relatives include broccoli, rutabaga, turnips, Brussels sprouts, radish, kohlrabi, kale and watercress. The firm, white edible `curd' consists of thickened, immature flower structures and their fleshy stalks. The growth pattern of cauliflower curds is one natural example of the mathematical series called Fibonacci Numbers.

The cauliflower's history is tied up with the history of its botanical relatives. The Etruscans, who came from Turkey, introduced its direct predecessor into Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region nearly 3000 years ago. By the 15th Century AD, the modern cauliflower had arrived.

The Italians were among the first to adopt it for everyday cooking. When Catherine de Medici of Tuscany married Henry II of France, she took a fleet of cooks along with her. Thus began the invasion of cauliflower and its botanical relatives into the rest of Europe.

Nutritionally and medicinally, the cauliflower is similar to the cabbage. Of course, the lower sulphur content is obvious. Like cabbage, it is rich in antioxidants, which help prevent cancer, and prevent heart disease caused by oxidative damage to blood vessels. It is especially rich in Vitamin C - one cup of chopped flowerets meets a whole day's requirement of this vitamin. A deficiency of Vitamin C causes scurvy because it interferes with collagen synthesis. Collagen is one of the structural frameworks of normal tissues. Swollen, bleeding gums and loose teeth, sore and stiff joints, poor wound healing, and anaemia characterise this disease, which was once common among sailors who went without fresh fruit for months on end. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.

Other anti-cancer molecules present in significant amounts included the phytochemicals sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.

Other micronutrients found in appreciable amounts are folate, a vitamin of the B complex, and selenium. Folate is vital for the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the fundamental genetic material in the body. It is also vital for the synthesis of haeme, the iron-bearing part of haemoglobin.

Deficiency of folate interferes with the maturation of red blood cells, resulting in anaemia. Pregnant women with this deficiency are more likely to give birth to babies with neural tube defects. A diet containing adequate amounts of the mineral, selenium lowers a man's risk for prostate cancer.

Don't overcook the cauliflower. Cooking for more than a few minutes will destroy Vitamin C and folate. Get hold of a good Chinese cookbook and experiment with lightly steamed cauliflower dishes, and you will not have to compromise on taste for the sake of nutrition and health.

RAJIV M.

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