What's caulilini? New veggie from Salinas Valley coming to stores

SALINAS, California -- There's a new variety of cauliflower heading soon to the produce section. It has a proprietary name -- caulilini.

Those who have tried it say it doesn't taste at all like cauliflower. It comes from the same company that created broccolini a few years ago.

It has been under wraps for two years -- a new variety of cauliflower that looks different and to most, tastes sweet and not at all like cauliflower.

"It's an Asian variety that's sort of loose, a little off color, but what caught my interest was the green stem, and I found that by enhancing the greenness, I enhance sweetness," said Rick Harris, director of growing operations at Mann Packing in Salinas.



Harris says he started working with 12 varieties of seeds. A similar vegetable is available at farmer's markets and in Asian grocery stores, but the goal was to be able to cultivate a variety that can grow year-round in the temperate Salinas Valley, alongside lettuce, berries and other vegetables.

"Out of those 12, only three really worked," he said. "This particular variety works year-round here in Salinas, and the other two are only seasonal."

It's challenging to explain the taste of caulilini.

"Does it taste like cauliflower?" asked Harris, handing him a floret cut from a freshly cut head of caulilini. "No," said reporter David Louie. "No, it doesn't," said Harris. "That's the whole thing. It's not a cauliflower. It's a caulilini."

Chefs, including Robert Dasalla at the Table in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood, have been trying out caulilini. It's getting good reviews.

"Anything that's new in the culinary scene is always exciting for us as chefs because we get to work with something that's different out of the box that we've never had our hands on," said Dasalla.

Whether it's served raw, sauteed, roasted or stir-fried, caulilini seems adaptable.

"There are so many different ways to work with it," said Loree Dowse, director of creative marketing at Mann Packing. "Because chefs are already doing that, I think that consumers will catch on pretty quickly."

With negotiations underway to begin national distribution to stores, Mann Packing is not saying how soon caulilini will reach your local produce section. However, the field we visited Monday will be harvested Tuesday.

If you'd like to try caulilini, Loree Dowse of Mann Packing said it's sometimes featured in the hot food section at Whole Foods Markets.
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