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Unless the cauliflower in the market is extremely fresh, I usually see at least a couple specimens with tiny blackish freckles on the bumpy "flower" surface.

see photo

I have assumed the spots were mildew, and tried to avoid them. I even shave that part of the cauliflower a little bit (for esthetics) if I get a head that has them. But they don't seem to taste moldy and aren't ever fuzzy. So I'm curious: is this really mildew, or just a color change that occurs as the cauliflower ages?

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It's just oxidation from the cauliflower aging. In the state the cauliflower in the picture is in, I wouldn't even bother removing the spots unless you're preparing it in a way that makes you think they'd be unsightly. If the curd/florets are still firm, you're good.

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