Cauliflower, a member of the cabbage family, is a crispy, crunchy, fun veggie... or, at least, it should be all these things. Rotten vegetables, including spoiled raw cauliflower, tend to be a little short on both crispness and crunchiness – and the fun. To avoid an unappetizing eating experience and even potential food poisoning, it’s important that you can easily recognize when a head of cauliflower has gone bad. And knowing how to select and store fresh cauliflower will help prevent any waste.
Identifying Bad Cauliflower
Brown spots on cauliflower that start out fairly pale and continue to darken are typically the first indication that the head has started to spoil. Early on, it’s fine to cut off these spots and use the rest of the unaffected florets. When there’s mold on cauliflower, though (which is often some shade of green, gray or black, and may be fuzzy-looking), it’s past the point of eating; just toss it.
Other signs that fresh cauliflower has gone bad and should no longer be eaten include:
- Significant or widespread discoloration
- Soft spots or mushiness
- A slimy feeling on the surface
- An unpleasant odor
- Spreading and separating florets
- Wilted leaves
Selecting the Best Head of Cauliflower
For maximum freshness, flavor and life span, take a minute or two at the grocery store or farmer’s market to examine the heads of cauliflower and make an informed selection. Look over the head thoroughly and make sure the florets have an even, creamy white texture. Or, if you’re buying purple or another color of cauliflower, check for even coloration throughout.
Avoid heads with brown spots, soft or mushy spots, other signs of damage, or mold growth. The head should be firm, feel hefty for its size and have florets densely packed together with compact curds. It also shouldn’t smell bad or even have much of an odor at all. Leaves should be a vibrant green, securely attached, and show no signs of wilting or drying out.
How to Store Fresh Cauliflower
With proper storage, you can reasonably expect a fresh, whole head of cauliflower to last for up to about a week. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with some minor brown spots to remove sooner than that, though. If you buy a bag of pre-cut cauliflower florets, or if you cut up your head ahead of time, it usually only lasts two or three days.
Refrigerate fresh cauliflower in the vegetable drawer to maximize its shelf life. Keep it in an unsealed plastic bag to prevent moisture accumulation (which often means removing it from the sealed wrapping used at grocery stores). Moisture accelerates rotting and promotes bacteria and mold growth, so don’t wash the cauliflower until you plan to use it. Store it with a paper towel wrapped around it to absorb moisture.
Keep cooked cauliflower in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days.
Freezing Fresh Cauliflower
If you can’t get through a head of cauliflower in time, freezing is an option for extended storage. As with most fresh veggies, you should blanch it prior to freezing. Blanching refers to partially cooking produce to deactivate certain enzymes involved in its breakdown process. While you can freeze cauliflower without blanching it, it’ll be mushy and have an off-color and taste when you eventually use it.
To blanch it, bring enough lightly salted water to fully cover all the cauliflower to a boil over high heat. While the water’s getting hot, cut up the head of cauliflower into individual florets and fill a large bowl or pot with ice water and put it in the sink. Boil the florets for 3 minutes; then immediately strain them and immerse them in the ice bath to prevent further cooking.
When the florets are completely dry, put them into a freezer bag with about ½ inch of head space, pressing out as much air as you can while sealing the bag; exposure to air leads to freezer burn. If you can vacuum-seal the cauliflower, that’s the best option. To avoid too much loss of quality, use frozen cauliflower within one year, but preferably more like six to eight months.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.