What Are Those Brown Spots on My Cauliflower?

updated Aug 16, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

If you purchase cauliflower with any degree of regularity, you’ve probably noticed pale brown spots scattered over the white florets. These freckles are the most common defect on cauliflower. Sometimes they’re already present when you buy a whole head or bag of florets. Other times you might not notice them until it’s time to make that creamy cauliflower soup or oven-roasted cauliflower you’ve been eyeing.

So, what exactly is going on here? Cauliflower can develop brown spots due to oxidation, a chemical reaction from prolonged exposure to light and air. But don’t fret, you can still make easy cauliflower recipes and your dinner isn’t necessarily ruined. Find out how to remove these spots and whether your cauliflower is still edible.

What is Oxidation — and Why Does It Cause Those Brown Spots?

A scattering of pale brown spots on the cauliflower curds isn’t all that abnormal, and it doesn’t necessary mean it’s time to ditch that newly purchased veggie. The culprit for this discoloration is oxidation, which happens naturally the longer cauliflower is stored.

Oxidation is simply the natural change in the vegetable’s color due to prolonged exposure to light and air. It’s the same change that occurs when the flesh of sliced apples turns brown, and when ground meat turns gray.

The good news is that you can still cook with this cauliflower. While the discoloration doesn’t look appealing, it’s harmless as long as the spots haven’t turned a dark color or have a mushy texture.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

How to Remove Brown Spots from Cauliflower

While they aren’t harmful to eat, if you want to scrape away the largest or most prominent brown spots, this is easy to do. The easiest way to remove the brown spots is with a knife. Use the blade of a chef’s knife to scrape away the brown areas or trim the tops of the curds that are discolored.

When to Toss Your Cauliflower

If instead of pale brown, the spots are dark brown to black in color, the curds have taken on a mushy texture, or have an off-putting odor, it’s best to toss the head of cauliflower and get a fresh one. These are all signs of decay and spoilage.