Rich in antioxidants and vitamin K, cauliflower is a tasty addition to any meal. As you’re considering the health benefits of this fibrous vegetable, you might be wondering: is cauliflower man made?
Yes, cauliflower is man made.
But that doesn’t mean scientists created cauliflower in a lab. The history of cauliflower goes back much further than 20th-century genetic modification.
Let’s take a look at how farmers used selective breeding to cultivate desirable wild cabbage traits over many centuries.
The Brassicaceae Bunch
Cauliflower is a domesticated cultivar of wild cabbage or Brassica oleracea (PDF-epsilon.slu.se).
(A cultivar is any variety of plant that humans have cultivated using selective breeding. More on that in a bit.)
Other sibling cultivars include broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and more. Collectively, the Brassicaceae family is also known as the mustard, crucifer, or cabbage family.
Cauliflower is most genetically similar to broccoli. Both vegetables come from the flower clusters of wild cabbage.
A Brief History of Cauliflower Grown Naturally
Selective breeding is not a new practice. Hunter-gatherers used this process of cultivation roughly 10,000 years ago.
The history of cauliflower begins slightly more recently, about 2,000 years ago.
The exact geographic origin of cauliflower remains a mystery. But cauliflower most likely originated in the Mediterranean.
Historians believe that the ancient Etruscans first cultivated wild cabbage in the Italian region now known as Tuscany.
In the first century Rome, Pliny the Elder referenced an early form of cauliflower in his text Natural History (read for free; gutenberg.org).
During the 15th and later centuries, traders carried cauliflower to other areas of present-day Europe and indeed across the globe.
Selective Breeding: Beginning of The Man Made Cauliflower Vegetable
Humans have used selective breeding to cultivate plants and animals since ancient times. Although humans assist the process, selective breeding occurs naturally without lab-based gene modification.
Selective breeding allows humans to develop desirable traits in fruit and vegetable crops. Desirable traits may relate to flavor, size, yield, and resilience to disease, pests, or unfavorable weather.
Humans interact with these plants at the point of pollination – the process responsible for plant reproduction.
Plant reproductive systems contain both male and female parts, the stamen and pistil respectively. Pollination occurs when pollen travels from the stamen to a pistil. Without human interaction, pollen travels from stamen to pistil via wind, animals, or insects.
Selective breeding involves controlled pollination. Humans transfer pollen from the stamen of a plant with desirable traits to the pistil of a plant with desirable traits. Cross-pollination occurs when the stamen and the pistil come from two genetically different species.
Other methods of propagation include grafting, cutting, and layering.
Dependent on new plant growth and subsequent cycles of reproduction, the process of selective breeding takes a long time.
Today, hundreds of cauliflower varieties exist – in one of four groups: Italian cauliflower, Northern European annuals, Northwest European biennial, or Asian cauliflower.
In addition to white cauliflower, you can also find vibrantly colored heads in green, orange, purple, and brown.