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Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea in the genus Brassica, which is in the Brassicaceae (or Mustard) family. It is an annual plant that reproduces by seed. Typically, only the head is eaten – the edible white flesh sometimes called "curd" (with a similar appearance to cheese curd). The cauliflower head is composed of a white inflorescence meristem. Cauliflower heads resemble those in broccoli, which differs in having flower buds as the edible portion. Brassica oleracea also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, and kale, collectively called "cole" crops, though they are of different cultivar groups.

Because weather is a limiting factor for producing cauliflower, the plant grows best in moderate daytime temperatures 21–29 °C (70–85 °F), with plentiful sun, and moist soil conditions high in organic matter and sandy soils. The earliest maturity possible for cauliflower is 7 to 12 weeks from transplanting. In the northern hemisphere, fall season plantings in July may enable harvesting before autumn frost.

Long periods of sun exposure in hot summer weather may cause cauliflower heads to discolor with a red-purple hue.

In 2016, global production of cauliflowers (combined for production reports with broccoli) was 25.2 million tonnes, led by China and India which, combined, had 73% of the world total. Secondary producers, having 0.4–1.3 million tonnes annually, were the United States, Spain, Mexico and Italy.

Cauliflower heads can be roasted, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, pickled, or eaten raw. When cooking, the outer leaves and thick stalks are typically removed, leaving only the florets (the edible "curd" or "head"). The leaves are also edible but are often discarded.

Cauliflower is a popular low-calorie, gluten-free alternative to rice and flour. Between 2012 and 2016, cauliflower production in the United States increased 63%, and cauliflower-based product sales increased 71% between 2017 and 2018. Cauliflower rice is made by pulsing cauliflower florets followed by cooking the result in oil. Cauliflower pizza crust is made from cauliflower flour and is popular in pizza restaurants.

Cauliflower has been noticed by mathematicians for its distinct fractal dimension, calculated to be roughly 2.8. One of the fractal properties of cauliflower is that every branch, or "module", is similar to the entire cauliflower. Another quality, also present in other plant species, is that the angle between "modules," as they become more distant from the center, is 360 degrees divided by the golden ratio.

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