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Is it OK to eat the brown spots on cauliflower?

Quick Answer

It is generally safe to eat the brown spots on cauliflower. The brown spots are caused by oxidation and are purely a cosmetic issue. However, if the spots cover a large portion of the cauliflower or have mushy texture, it’s best to cut them out. The brown spots don’t necessarily indicate spoilage, but cauliflower that is extensively spotted should be used soon.

What Causes the Brown Spots on Cauliflower?

The brown spots that sometimes appear on cauliflower are caused by oxidation. When cauliflower is exposed to air, a natural chemical reaction occurs involving the plant enzymes polyphenol oxidase and phenolic compounds. This reaction causes the formation of melanin pigments that result in brown spots on the surface of the cauliflower.

Essentially, the brown spots are superficial discoloration that occurs when the cauliflower starts to oxidize. It’s similar to how apples and avocados turn brown after being sliced and left out in the air.

The brown spots usually start appearing within a couple days after the cauliflower is harvested. How quickly and how much spotting occurs depends on factors like:

  • The variety of cauliflower – some types are more prone to spotting
  • Storage conditions – warmth and light exposure increases spotting
  • Age – older cauliflower is more likely to develop extensive spotting
  • Physical damage – bruising and rough handling can accelerate spot formation

While visually unappealing, the brown spots are harmless and do not necessarily indicate the cauliflower is bad.

Are the Brown Spots Safe to Eat?

The brown spots on cauliflower are perfectly safe to eat. The discoloration is purely cosmetic and does not affect flavor or nutrition. The spotted areas have the same texture and taste as the rest of the cauliflower head.

However, it’s best to avoid cauliflower with extensive brown spotting, as this indicates the produce is old and of poor quality. Cauliflower that is largely spotted should be used soon before further deterioration occurs.

Here are some guidelines on eating spotted cauliflower:

  • Small spots – Safe to eat and do not need to be removed.
  • Moderate spotting -Trim away spots if desired for better appearance. Remainder is still good.
  • Large brown patches or mushy texture – Should be discarded and not consumed.

In general, if the brown spots are relatively minor and localized, the cauliflower is perfectly fine to eat. But if the discoloration covers a substantial portion of the head or has spread into the florets, it’s best to cut away those areas.

What About Moldy Spots?

While the brown discoloration on cauliflower is harmless, moldy spots are not safe to eat. Mold can sometimes grow along with the brown oxidation, appearing as fuzzy or slimy patches.

Moldy cauliflower should be inspected carefully. Any moldy sections should be trimmed off along with an extra 1-2 inches of surrounding cauliflower as a precaution. The remainder that is free of mold and foul odor can be cooked and consumed.

Extensively moldy cauliflower with spread into the head should be discarded in its entirety. Do not attempt to salvage cauliflower overrun with mold. Consuming moldy produce can cause digestive issues ranging from stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Here is a simple table summarizing the safety of eating discolored areas on cauliflower:

Type of Discoloration Safe to Eat?
Small brown spots Yes
Large brown patches No
Moldy spots No

How to Prevent Brown Spots When Storing Cauliflower

While the brown spots don’t indicate spoilage, they do detract from cauliflower’s appearance. Follow these storage tips to help minimize discoloration:

  • Keep cauliflower cool – Store in the refrigerator set at 32-35°F soon after purchasing.
  • Use plastic bag or wrap – Covering cauliflower helps retain moisture and prevents drying out.
  • Avoid washing before storing – Washing accelerates deterioration. Only wash cauliflower right before use.
  • Use within 5-7 days – Eat fresh cauliflower soon for best quality and minimal oxidation.
  • Trim florets – Separating florets stops spots from spreading across the head.

Proper post-harvest handling and refrigeration allows cauliflower to stay fresh longer with minimal spotting. But some discoloration may still naturally occur over time.

What If My Entire Cauliflower Head is Covered in Spots?

Extensively spotted cauliflower where the majority of the head is brown or grayish is past its prime. At this stage, the texture also becomes noticeably soft and mushy.

While not unsafe, heavily spotted old cauliflower will be poorer quality with diminished flavor and nutrition. It’s best to avoid using entire heads that are largely discolored.

Here are some options for heavily spotted cauliflower:

  • Cut away good portions and use soon in cooking
  • Puree into soup stocks, sauces, or smoothies
  • Chop and add to stir fries, omelets, or fried rice
  • Compost inedible parts along with trimmings

With extensive spotting, it’s impractical to trim away every discolored area. Focus on salvaging and using any remaining decent portions, while discarding badly deteriorated parts.

Does Spotting Indicate Cauliflower is Going Bad?

The brown spots themselves do not necessarily signal cauliflower spoilage. Oxidation naturally occurs even in fresh cauliflower. However, heavy spotting coupled with softening does indicate the cauliflower is old and dried out.

Signs that cauliflower has gone bad and may be unsafe include:

  • Slimy texture or mushy consistency
  • Foul, sulfurous odor
  • Moldy growth anywhere on the head
  • Dark leathery skin
  • Visibly rotten sections

Any cauliflower showing these warning signs should be discarded. Spoiled cauliflower can harbor harmful bacteria and cause foodborne illness if eaten.

When in doubt, remember the old adage “When in doubt, throw it out.” Don’t risk eating cauliflower that seems overly soft, discolored or smelly.

What Causes Cauliflower to Spoil Quickly?

Cauliflower will deteriorate faster when:

  • Stored at warm temperatures
  • Kept in sunlight or heat
  • Placed near ethylene-producing produce like apples or bananas
  • Washed or trimmed prior to storage
  • Physically damaged, cut or crushed
  • Left unpackaged in the refrigerator

Proper post-harvest cooling, moisture retention, and storage in the dark help maintain cauliflower quality and freshness. But eventually spoilage organisms will grow, causing inedible soft rot.

Can You Cut Away Brown Parts and Still Eat the Cauliflower?

It’s fine to trim away minor brown spots on cauliflower and consume the remainder. But if the discoloration and deterioration is extensive, trimming may not be worthwhile.

Here are some guidelines on trimming spotty cauliflower:

  • Small spots – No need to trim, entire head still usable
  • Moderate spotting – Cut away unattractive spots, use rest soon
  • Large brown patches – Discard badly affected parts, cook remainder quickly
  • Extensive rotting – Compost whole head, not worth salvaging

The key is examining the extent of the damage. Small, local spots can be left untouched. But deep, spreading discoloration indicates microbial action, necessitating removal of those areas. If most of the head is affected, the cauliflower is beyond trimming and should be discarded.


The development of brown spots on cauliflower is a natural result of oxidation and does not make it unsafe to eat. While unappealing looking, small superficial spots can be left alone or trimmed off if desired. However, extensive discoloration, mold growth, foul odors, or mushy texture are signs to discard the cauliflower. Storing cauliflower properly helps minimize oxidation, but consuming within 5-7 days remains key to enjoying it at peak quality. With some prudent trimming of damaged areas, cauliflower with minor spotting can still be enjoyed. Just be sure to compost rather than consume those undesirable sections.