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Cauliflower vs. Broccoli—What’s the Difference Between These Two Cruciferous Vegetables?

Broccoli is delicious and cauliflower is, well, everywhere. (We see you, keto friends.) And given their similar appearance, it’s no wonder that these two popular veggies are often lumped together. So, let’s begin the great cauliflower vs. broccoli debate. What’s the difference? Is one better for you than the other? Can they both be turned into rice? (Spoiler: Broccoli rice is not a thing.) Here, a breakdown of the similarities and differences between these two cruciferous vegetables, so you can pick a team…or not.

Cauliflower vs. Broccoli: What’s the difference?

Cauliflower and broccoli are strikingly similar vegetables, which makes sense since they are different cultivars belonging to the same Brassica family. Aside from their different color—the most common varieties of cauliflower and broccoli are white and green, respectively—they both look pretty similar at first glance. 

There are, however, a few other key differences in terms of both their taste and appearance. For starters, you might have noticed that cauliflower is much more compact (i.e., more difficult to cut into florets), whereas broccoli has separate stalks that you can see between. In terms of flavor, broccoli has a much more pronounced taste (think: earthy and herbaceous), while cauliflower is nutty, subtly sweet and considerably milder. So, what else makes these Brassica babes distinct from one another? Read on for an in-depth look at the nutrition, health benefits and cooking potential of ‘em both.

Nutrition

Both these cruciferous vegetables are low in calories and packed with important vitamins and nutrients. That said, their nutrition profiles are not identical. Here’s a nutrition cheat sheet, courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture, that includes some of the most important nutrients found in both.

One cup of raw broccoli contains:

  • 31 calories
  • 6 grams carbs
  • 5 grams protein
  • 5 grams fiber
  • Vitamin C (90% of DV)
  • Vitamin K (77% of DV)
  • Vitamin B-6 (9% of DV)
  • Folate (14% of DV)
  • Pantothenic acid (10% of DV)

One cup of raw cauliflower contains:

  • 27 calories
  • 5 grams carbs
  • 2 grams protein
  • 2 grams fiber
  • Vitamin C (57% of DV)
  • Vitamin K (14% of DV)
  • Vitamin B-6 (12% of DV)
  • Folate (15% of DV)
  • Pantothenic acid (14% of DV) 

As you can see, both broccoli and cauliflower provide an impressive amount of fiber. Broccoli beats out cauliflower when it comes to vitamins C and K, while cauliflower boasts slightly higher amounts of vitamin B-6, folate, and pantothenic acid and fewer carbs. (Hint: That last part is why cauliflower is the darling of keto dieters everywhere.) The takeaway? Although there are some differences, it’s safe to say that cauliflower and broccoli are both nutrient dense and seriously good for you. 

Health benefits

Given the amount of macronutrients found in both veggies, it should come as no surprise that eating them has a number of health benefits. Most notably, broccoli and cauliflower are both rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation, protect against chronic disease and can even prevent cancer. In fact, this 2013 meta-analysis published in the Annals of Oncology concluded that the antioxidants found in cruciferous vegetables are associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Additionally, research (like this 2010 study published in Clinical Cancer Research and this 2004 study published in Carcinogenesis) has shown that one antioxidant in particular, sulforaphane, actually reduces the size of malignant breast tumors and kills off prostate cancer cells. It’s also worth noting that the research available on the health benefits of cauliflower and broccoli doesn’t make a distinction between the two—namely because they both contain the aforementioned health-boosting compounds.

Side effects

Are there side effects to consuming copious amounts of broccoli and cauliflower? Yes, but the health benefits generally outweigh them. Still, it’s worth noting that both broccoli and cauliflower, along with all the other members of the cruciferous family, are known to cause bloating and gas due to their high fiber and FODMAP content. This is particularly true when these veggies are consumed raw but can even be an issue when consumed cooked. If you have IBS, you might want to limit yourself to modest amounts of these two cruciferous veggies.

Uses

Broccoli and cauliflower both deserve a place in your regular meal rotation…but how do you use them, exactly? Well, friends, there are myriad ways to cook with these cruciferous veggies, since they both stand up well to steaming, roasting, grilling and sauteing. In case you missed it, cauliflower is also incredibly versatile and can be transformed into everything from a low-carb alternative to rice to a keto-friendly pizza crust.

Both vegetables are excellent candidates for stir-frys, pastas and soups, and they make tasty stand-alone sides when prepared with little more than a pinch of salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil. If you’re in the mood for something more decadent, you can also drench broccoli or cauliflower with a cheesy bechamel sauce and serve it au gratin. Bottom line: You won’t have any trouble finding fun and delicious ways to plate and then put away either of these cruciferous veggies…but if you’re in need of a little inspiration, just check out the recipes below.