Saturday, October 18, 2008

Romanesco: Eating Mathematics

Cauliflower or Broccoli? Broccoli or Cauliflower? The Romanesco something was discovered in Italy in the 16th century and is believed to actually be a variant of cauliflower but is green just like a broccoli and is often sold as such.

Heralded for its anti-carcinogenic properties, like most Brasssica genus, it's heavy in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, riboflavin and fibre. This ingredient makes a fabulous center piece in any dish or meal.

One study noted its level of isothiocyanates (ITC's) which are bioactive compounds that inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. Only black and purple cabbage showed higher levels.

The florets grow from a pattern called the Fibonacci series which is a fancy way of saying the sum of two numbers is equal to the two previous. It is also a premise for a bad Dan Brown novel, but this post is supposed to be about cool vegetables and not sour grapes..

Years ago back in film school, a professor got bored showed the class a documentary on fractals and the nature of chaos and how evolutionary biology can be understood mathematically. Well he wasn't very good anyway but that was eye opening.

I like the Romanesco because it's both broccoli and cauliflower and yet something completely different all at the same time. That is an outlook I find both philosophically comforting and pithily descriptive of myself in many ways. All of nature should give me this much satisfaction wrapped in a vibrant green parcel, but alas that is not always the case. Besides, any vegetable could do math better than I could and yes I'm anthropomorphizing but every so often I like to think nature has a sense of humour.

There is more to be learned from its complex replication of simple fractals patterns which make this healthy vegetable (broccoli or not) a mesmerizing substitute for the ordinary offerings at the big box grocery store. It's almost a shame to chop.

Mmmmm... this needs a song.


Michael Lonergan said...

Isn't there now on the market, a combination of Broccoli and Cauliflower?

Geoff said...

You are correct Michael. There are two popular "broccoflowers" on the market. The Romanesco is one and the other is a fractal less lime green version simply referred to as broccoflower or 'green cauliflower'.

Glendon Mellow: The Flying Trilobite said...

Great to meet you last night at the PZ reception, Geoff!

My email about the dinner ddn't get through at the "caasig at sympatico" email.

Contact me with your email, and I'll forward the details!

theflyingtrilobite at gmail dot com.


Atheist Chaplain said...

I just came over from your post on Pharyngula in the poll crashing thread and After a bit of a read I will be returning, A nice read and I have already found a recipe that I will be trying tomorrow night :-)

Mona Albano said...

Food! My favourite dish...

I found this in 2005, highlighted by someone from Femilab: Fractal food.

Brassica are like dogs: all those varieties look like they should be different species, but they are just varieties: kale, kohlrabi, Brusssels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli.

Geoff said...

Thanks Folks!

Welcome to the blog and enjoy the recipes and commentary. I welcome all your comments and opinions.