By Kate Cimini
Salinas-based company Mann Packing has introduced a new vegetable to the U.S. market, debuting a 10-ounce packet of caulilini florets in Chicago, at the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2019 Convention & Expo .
Previously only sold wholesale to restaurants, caulilini is now set to be available to the American public.
But what is caulilini?
What looks like a blanched version of broccoli, caulilini is a non-GMO hybrid variety of cauliflower common in Asia. It has a sweet-tasting stem that is less fibrous than that of the American versions of cauliflower or broccoli.
The introduction of caulilini to U.S. markets is down to Mann Packing Director of Growing Operations Rick Harris, who spent close to three years working with 12 different varieties to determine everything from bed size to harvest times.
It all began with a challenge: a friend of Harris’ brought caulilini to a barbecue and dared him to do something with it.
“Well, you know, it was curiosity,” said Harris. “It was a challenge. Can I take that variety and manipulate it to something I can use as a new type of product?”
After three years of development and trialing, it turned out that he could.
I started with twelve different varieties and I needed to find the ones I could produce here in Salinas year-round,” said Harris. “We process in Salinas, so I really didn’t want to grow it in Yuma in the wintertime to truck it up here for processing, and then truck it right back down for shipping.”
Harris trialed the twelve different varietals — most of which had been designed for growth in a tropical climate in Asia — and found one that grew well in a cool, temperate climate like Salinas. Then, he set about trialing that one, trying to create a long-stemmed cauliflower varietal.
As he tried different cultural methods — such as different watering amounts, different bed sizes and so on — he learned what set caulilini apart from your traditional cauliflower.
“I call it an open-face cauliflower because we don’t tie it, we let it spread to allow sun exposure,” said Harris. “As it draws color from the sunlight, it filters down through the plant and enhances the greenness of the stem.
“The flavor is in the stem, not the floret,” said Harris. “The floret is so important for the stem just because it draws the sunlight, enhances the color, and the flavor of the stem is where it’s at. Where cauliflower’s not sweet, caulilini’s sweet.”
Caulilini looks to follow in the footsteps of broccoli rabe, a mustard green patented by D’Arrigo Brothers for sale in the U.S.