According to media reports in the US, Cornell University crucifer breeder Michael Dickson has transformed cauliflower from broccoli's pale cousin into a new orange variety that is now available in supermarkets and farmers' markets.
"White cauliflower lacks the dark green pigments that give broccoli the nutritional advantage that health-conscious people are interested in," said Dickson, who led the bean and crucifer breeding programmes at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York from 1964 to 1995, and is now a professor emeritus.
Seedquest reports that the florets of the new cauliflower look like those of its white cousin, but are orange. The vitamin content of orange cauliflower is higher because it contains 320 microgrammes of beta-carotene per 100 grammes, or approximately 25 times more vitamin A than white cauliflower.
Vitamin A is thought to aid the immune system in fighting certain infections and inflammations, such as measles and infections caused by some food-poisoning organisms. Vitamin A-rich foods could therefore be valuable immune-boosters.
Using conventional breeding techniques, Dickson crossbred the orange cauliflower and selected successive generations until he had a larger, more market friendly variety.
While he was working on the horticultural aspects, food chemists at the Experiment Station were evaluating the nutritional value of the new vegetable. In 1988, food scientist Cy Lee published his findings: orange cauliflower had 54 retinol equivalents (RE) per 100 grammes of vitamin A. By comparison, green peas have 64 RE, lima beans 30 RE, sweet corn 28 RE, and cabbage stands at 13 RE.
Scientists have recently warned that overdosing on vitamin A can raise the risk of fracture but inadequate levels also raise this risk. The UK's Health Food Manufacturers' Association currently sets the Upper Safe Level (USL) for daily vitamin A supplementation at 2300 ug, while the Food Standards Agency's recently commissioned report from the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals reduces this to 1500ug.
Europe's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) recommends a total daily intake of not more than 3000ug.