Cauliflower may be canned as an ingredient in tested pickling recipes that call for it as an ingredient. In some of those recipes, it plays a starring role; it others, it plays a supporting role.
Recipes for canning cauliflower
Some people prefer to use wide-mouth jars for recipes using large chunks of cauliflower, because packing the jars can be just that little bit easier, but regular-mouth jars are equally fine to use.
Pickled cauliflower products should be used up within a year or two, because any straggler jars that hit the 3 year old mark or more, even when they have been stored in a cool dark place, can develop a noticeable old-cabbage pong that hits your nose as you open those older jars.
Don’t try pickling recipes with cauliflower that has previously been frozen; the texture will come out too soft.
Pickled Cauliflower (NCHFP)
Pickled Mixed Veg (NCHFP)
Pickled cauliflower discoloring
Pickled cauliflower is usually very cooperative in staying a nice bright white, but on occasion it may turn brownish or purplish.
It can turn brownish if a darker vinegar such as apple cider, malt or red wine is used. For this reason, home canning recipes for cauliflower usually advise white vinegar. It’s nothing to do with safety (provided 5% or higher vinegars are used): in fact, cauliflower pickled with those other vinegars is probably far more tasty. It’s just consumer visual preference.
White vinegar is usually preferred when light color is desirable, as is the case with fruits and cauliflower.”  USDA Complete Guide 2015. Page 1-28.
If cauliflower turns purplish after being pickled, it’s just natural pigments coming out, and is entirely safe. North Dakota State says:
Cauliflower with a purplish tinge is frequently found in the market and it can be disconcerting for some folks but there’s nothing to worry about. Purple cauliflower is safe to eat. Some cauliflower varieties have a genetic propensity to having a higher concentration of red, purple, or blue pigments. This is the same harmless, water soluble pigment found in eggplant, red cabbage, berries, plums and grapes. In other types of cauliflower the colorless or white pigments will predominate. Purpling can develop in white varieties of cauliflower if the heads are exposed to light while developing. Usually, the leaves are tied over the heads. If the cauliflower has a lot of purpling it is probably best to use it raw for relishes or salads. Heat may induce a color change from purple to gray or slate blue.  North Dakota State University Extension Service. Discoloration in Canned Foods. Date: July 1988 (Reviewed June 1996). Accessed June 2016.
Current USDA Advice on home canning plain cauliflower
You cannot can cauliflower plain, nor are there any pressure canning recipes from reputable sources that call for plain cauliflower even as an ingredient (current as of summer 2016).
Penn State Extension says,
There are no scientifically approved methods for canning broccoli or cauliflower as a plain vegetable. Because both are low acid foods, they would need to be pressure canned. The higher temperature of pressure canning would cause the product to soften to the extent that is would not be palatable. Freeze broccoli and cauliflower; do not can them except as pickled cauliflower. Adding vinegar to cauliflower as in Pickled Cauliflower increases the acidity of the product making it safe to can in a boiling water bath. The vinegar also firms the cauliflower. ”  Penn State Extension. Freezing Broccoli or Cauliflower. Blog post 7 October 2012. Accessed June 2016.
The reason that plain cauliflower would need to be pressure canned is that its pH is 5.6. FDA. Approximate pH of Foods and Food Products. April 2007. Accessed March 2015. For something to be water-bath or steam canned, the pH must be 4.6 or lower.
Sarah Lewis at the University of Alaska says even with pressure canning, there could be issues — density issues:
Avoid canning pumpkin, winter squash, broccoli, or cauliflower soup. These can be too dense and contain ingredients that interfere with safe processing.”  Lewis, Sarah. Canning Soups and Sauces. University of Alaska Fairbanks. November 2014.
Note that because there are no separate canning recommendations for plain cauliflower, it is not available for choice as an ingredient in the USDA’s “Your choice” soup.
Results of plain canned cauliflower not very good anyway
Barb Ingham at the University of Wisconsin puts cauliflower in the list of vegetables that she feels give unpalatable results.
The following vegetables are not recommended for home canning: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, rutabaga, summer squash (such as zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash), turnips, and wild mushrooms. These vegetables develop strong flavors and usually discolor when canned, or may be unsafe to can. Using them in vegetable mixtures is not recommended for the same reasons.”  Ingham, Barb. Canning Vegetables Safely. University of Wisconsin Extension. B1159. 2008. Page 22.
Even the canning rebels who have tried (with guessed-at processing times) say, “don’t bother.” Here’s one such rebel’s admission:
Q: Canning cauliflower: Have you ever canned cauliflower without pickling? I heard this can not be done. —
A: Yes, I have and it did not turn out well. It discolors somewhat and is pretty strong in flavor. It is better frozen….” Clay, Jackie. Backwoods Home Magazine. 5th November 2013. Accessed June 2016.
Michigan State Extension says the results would not look or taste pretty:
Cauliflower usually discolors and grows stronger in flavor when canned. For this reason, canning is not recommended.”  Messing, Laurie. Using, Storing and Preserving Cauliflower. Michigan State Extension. Bulletin HN120. April 2012. Page 1.
Professional advice is generally that cauliflower is not a good candidate for storage by drying. So Easy to Preserve, 2014 edition, lists its suitability for drying as “poor.” (page 348.)
The University of Missouri Extension elaborates on why:
Cauliflower can also be dehydrated, but most of the vitamin C is destroyed during blanching and drying, and the quality will be poor.”  Schroepfer, Mary and Judith Lueders. Quality for Keeps: Preserve broccoli and cauliflower spring or fall. University of Missouri Extension. Vol 25, no. 2. May 2010. Page 1.
If you do want to try dehydrating cauliflower anyway, the advice from So Easy to Preserve is to prep the cauliflower as you would normally by cutting off stalk, leaves, and any brown spots. Do a boiling-water blanch for 3 – 4 minutes OR a steam blanch for 4 to 5 minutes. Then, 12 – 15 hours in a dehydrator. Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 349.
Cauliflower is an ideal candidate for freezing. It won’t come out as crispy as when it is pickled: it will come out somewhat soft, but retain some texture along with its taste and a good deal of its nutrition.
The cauliflower should be trimmed of stalk and leaves, washed, blanched, and packed.
So Easy to Preserve (2014 edition, page 283) gives the following directions:
Choose compact white heads. Trim off leaves and cut head into pieces about 3 cm (1 inch) across. If necessary to remove insects, soak for 30 minutes in solution of salt and water (1 teaspoon salt per litre of water / 4 teaspoons salt per gallon water). Drain.
Water blanch for 3 minutes in water containing 1 teaspoon salt per litre of water / 4 teaspoons salt per gallon water.
Cool promptly, drain and package, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze.”  Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 283.
Should you wish to steam blanch instead of boiling water blanch, on 279 of the same edition a steam blanching time of 5 minutes is given.
(To be clear, the blanching is not required for safety, but it is required for quality. Unblanched frozen cauliflower will turn an unappealing brown and go mooshy.)
When thawed, the cauliflower can be reheated in the microwave and served as is, or used in dishes such as cauliflower cheese, cauliflower casseroles, soups, mashed cauliflower, etc. It will be too soft to use for ricing (grating into “cauliflower rice”), or for stir-frying.
History of canning plain cauliflower recommendations
Some new canners wonder if the issue of canning plain cauliflower is a question that just has never been thought of, or addressed.
Far from it. It has been wondered about, addressed, and attempted.
This history section should help people understand that there is in fact a long history, leading up to recommendations for it being dropped entirely.
[To be clear: none of these methods should be attempted. This information is for historical purposes only.]
USDA’s recommendations for canning plain cauliflower
In the very early years of the 1900s, some home economists under the USDA’s broad umbrella did try to guess at processing methods and times for home canned cauliflower.
The Farmers’ Bulletin 359, issued in 1909 by the federal Bureau of Chemistry, advised you to bottle cauliflower by putting it in jars with water, and boiling it for an hour each day for 3 successive days. This was a method called variously either “fractional sterilization” or”intermittent processing.” Alternatively, you could just boil the jar of cauliflower for 5 hours straight.
In 1917, Farmers Bulletin 839 dropped the “fractional” options for cauliflower and presented these processing recommendations instead:
Cauliflower.—Use the flowered portion. Plunge it into cold brine (one-half pound salt to 12 quarts of water). Allow the cauliflower to remain in this brine for one hour. Blanch it 3 minutes and dip quickly into cold water. Pack it in hot glass jars or tin cans. Fill with boiling water and add a level teaspoonful of salt per quart. Put rubbers and caps of jars in position, not tight. Cap and tip cans. Sterilize for the length of time given below for the particular type of outfit used:
- Water bath, homemade or commercial: 60 minutes
- Water seal, 214° (F): 40 minutes
- 5 pounds steam pressure: 30 minutes
- 15 pounds steam pressure: 20 minutes
Remove the jars; tighten covers; invert jars to cool, and test the joint. Wrap the jars with paper to prevent bleaching.  Benson, O.H. Home Canning by the One-Period Cold-Pack Method. USDA. Farmers Bulletin 839. June 1917. Page 17.
A private sector writer in 1918, Mary B. Hughes, suggested a much longer boiling time of 1 1/2 hours for the jars of cauliflower:
Blanch in boiling water five minutes and plunge in cold water. Pack in hot jars, fill with boiling water within one-half inch of top, add teaspoon of salt for each quart, adjust rubber and cap, seal lightly, and process one and one-half hours.”  Hughes, Mary B. Everywoman’s Canning Book. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows. 1918. page 20.
Regardless of the length of time or method, people apparently just were not liking the results of the home canned cauliflower. Farmers’ Bulletin 853 in 1917 advised some form of pickling (such as in brine) instead: “Summer cabbage, cauliflower, and cucumbers are better saved in brine than canned.”  Creswell, Mary E. and Ola Powell. Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables. USDA. Farmers’ Bulletin 853. July 1917; revised 1918. Page 3.
By 1926, advice on canning plain cauliflower was dropped completely from USDA home canning recommendations. It doesn’t appear at all in the 1926 “Home Canning of Fruits, Vegetables and Meat” (Farmers’ Bulletin 1471, September 1926, which replaced Bulletin 1211) by Louise Stanley. It never re-appeared in any revisions and updates over the decades.
In 1944, during the Second World War when people were desperate to preserve any food they could, they still were advised not to can plain cauliflower:
The list of vegetables you don’t want to can includes also cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, parsnips, and turnips. The flavor and texture of some of these vegetables is poor when you can them at home…”  USDA. Homemakers’ Chat. 13 July 1944. Page 2.
Ball’s recommendations for canning plain cauliflower
Old versions of the Ball Blue Book did have directions, from at least the 1920s, until 1974, though the directions evolved and changed over time.
In the 1920s, Edition E of the Blue Book, the directions were:
CANNED CAULIFLOWER. Separate a head of cauliflower into flowerets and stand it head downward in a pan of cold salted water. Examine it carefully to see that there are no concealed insects. Then arrange it in BALL Jars, putting in as many pieces as possible without crushing them. Cover the cauliflower with boiling water, salt it slightly, and proceed as directed under CANNED CORN. [Ed: Process three to four hours in hotwater bath; one and one-half hours, water-seal outfit; one hour under five or more pounds of steam; forty minutes in aluminum pressure cooker. ] Ball Blue Book. Muncie, Indiana: Ball Bros. Glass Mfg. Company. Edition E. [Undated, ca 1920s]. Page 41.
By 1974, 29th edition of the Blue Book (page 25), only pressure canning remained as an option, with times of 30 minutes for pints, 35 minutes for quarts.
In 1976, Ball got its own first test kitchen: “We’re certainly canning experts — the first official Fresh Preserving Test Kitchen was started in 1976….” Harrold, Judy. Forward. Ball Blue Book, 37th edition, 2014.
By 1977, in the 30th edition of the Ball Blue Book, they’d dropped any information in the vegetable canning section on canning cauliflower and instead said to freeze it:
CAULIFLOWER: Freezing results in a better product than canning. See page 92 for proper instructions on freezing cauliflower.” (similar directions to freeze instead of can were given for Broccoli and Eggplant.)  Ball Blue Book, 30th Edition. Muncie, Indiana: Ball Corporation. 1977. Page 65.
Some say the reason Ball dropped canning recommendations for plain cauliflower was because of quality issues, not safety.
Note, though, that the dropping of advice for canning cauliflower occurred after the test kitchen opened. It could be that when Ball conducted its own updated tests in its new test kitchen, it found cauliflower unsafe. Certainly, at the same time, recommendations for canning other things such as cabbage and eggplant, that the USDA wouldn’t support, were dropped as well.
In any event, if a canning recommendation has disappeared from the Blue Book, occasionally it is because tastes change over the decades, and they do make way for newer style recipes. But, they have also certainly dropped recommendations that were unsafe. So do not assume that something was just dropped to keep up with modern tastes. If you are determined to know, ask Ball via their hotline or Facebook page, and they will tell you something is still considered safe or not.
But clearly, there’s no point in asking the USDA (or the NCHFP): they haven’t even looked at the question for nearly 100 years.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||USDA Complete Guide 2015. Page 1-28.|
|2.||↑||North Dakota State University Extension Service. Discoloration in Canned Foods. Date: July 1988 (Reviewed June 1996). Accessed June 2016.|
|3.||↑||Penn State Extension. Freezing Broccoli or Cauliflower. Blog post 7 October 2012. Accessed June 2016.|
|4.||↑||FDA. Approximate pH of Foods and Food Products. April 2007. Accessed March 2015.|
|5.||↑||Lewis, Sarah. Canning Soups and Sauces. University of Alaska Fairbanks. November 2014.|
|6.||↑||Ingham, Barb. Canning Vegetables Safely. University of Wisconsin Extension. B1159. 2008. Page 22.|
|7.||↑||Clay, Jackie. Backwoods Home Magazine. 5th November 2013. Accessed June 2016.|
|8.||↑||Messing, Laurie. Using, Storing and Preserving Cauliflower. Michigan State Extension. Bulletin HN120. April 2012. Page 1.|
|9.||↑||Schroepfer, Mary and Judith Lueders. Quality for Keeps: Preserve broccoli and cauliflower spring or fall. University of Missouri Extension. Vol 25, no. 2. May 2010. Page 1.|
|10.||↑||Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 349.|
|11.||↑||Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 283.|
|12.||↑||Benson, O.H. Home Canning by the One-Period Cold-Pack Method. USDA. Farmers Bulletin 839. June 1917. Page 17.|
|13.||↑||Hughes, Mary B. Everywoman’s Canning Book. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows. 1918. page 20.|
|14.||↑||Creswell, Mary E. and Ola Powell. Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables. USDA. Farmers’ Bulletin 853. July 1917; revised 1918. Page 3.|
|15.||↑||USDA. Homemakers’ Chat. 13 July 1944. Page 2.|
|16.||↑||Ball Blue Book. Muncie, Indiana: Ball Bros. Glass Mfg. Company. Edition E. [Undated, ca 1920s]. Page 41.|
|17.||↑||Harrold, Judy. Forward. Ball Blue Book, 37th edition, 2014.|
|18.||↑||Ball Blue Book, 30th Edition. Muncie, Indiana: Ball Corporation. 1977. Page 65.|