In the realm of the world’s biggest lies, somewhere in the vicinity of “My diet starts Monday” and “I’m never drinking again,” ranks this whopper: “Mashed cauliflower tastes exactly like mashed potatoes.”
This is just the first in a litany of lofty claims made by cauliflower people, as I call them, to make the rest of the world believe that cauliflower is the answer to everything, from dieting woes, to world peace.
I should tell you, as a matter of context, that over the past six months, I have dramatically changed the way I eat, the details of which I will write about in a future column. The seismic shift in my eating habits has exposed me to more cauliflower people and cauliflower talk than I will likely ever endure in my lifetime. If I had to guess, I’d say some people even call me a cauliflower person, being someone who, regardless of the extent to which people understand my way of eating, is regarded as “healthy.” (There’s a phrase I never thought would be associated with me, “healthy eater.” Funny.)
So, because of the lengths to which I have gone to eat better, to cook better, to find alternatives to what I was eating before, I feel I’m qualified to make this claim. “Cauliflower tastes like mashed potatoes” is a lie, however well-intentioned. It’s something people tell themselves so they won’t feel deprived or to make them not miss mashed potatoes as much.
Low-carb eaters, dieters, bloggers, and cooks have long been replicating their favourite starchy dishes with vegetable stand-ins, but lately it has reached epic proportions. Cauliflower is used in a million different ways – riced, grated, fried, everything you can imagine. There are recipes everywhere that substitute a starch with cauliflower. Cauliflower nachos, cauliflower poutine, cauliflower pizza crust. I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Welcome to your 30s, where cauliflower has replaced all the foods you love.” That’s certainly what it seems like, if the Internet is any indication.
This year, the category is booming. Searches for cauliflower rice recipes on Pinterest more than double year over year, and searches for spiralizer recipes are up 300 per cent, according to the New York Times. Google search interest in cauliflower rice increases each year, except for the period from Christmas to New Year’s (immediately after it spikes again once people start their New Year’s resolutions). Cookbook authors are hopping on the bandwagon, with books such as “Spiralize This!” and “Spiralize Now!” because I guess if anything’s worthy of an exclamation point, it’s tubular vegetables.
Another (related) lie: “Zucchini noodle recipes will make you forget all about pasta.” Incorrect. This lie falls squarely in the same category as the cauliflower lie. Same intention, same motivation, same incentive, same result.
Yes, when people twirl long green strings of zucchini on their forks, it will resemble spaghetti’s shape, kind of. Yes, because of its neutral taste it tends to take on the flavours its paired with, so the taste of the zucchini itself doesn’t distract from other components of the dish. That is where the fair comparisons end.
The fact that cauliflower is off-white like potatoes and can be processed in a way that makes it look like a scoop of mashed potatoes, does not a scoop of mashed potatoes make, as they say. If I gave you a plate of bleached sawdust with butter and sour cream in it, or if I covered a plate of long, blonde hair in marinara sauce, those plates would just look like their starchy inspirations, and that’s about the extent of it.
We’re less inclined to eat vegetables for vegetables’ sake, no matter how prettily we whittle them down, it would seem. The war against carbohydrates is a tough one, and for some dieters it cannot be won without replacing our favourite foods and convincing ourselves we’ve found comparable stand-ins. Even though we can make vegetables look like pasta or rice, that doesn’t take away the issues of taste and texture and the fact that they’re not pasta or rice.
So yes, I am irritated when someone puts melted cheese on a plate of cauliflower and calls it nachos, and when someone hollows out a cucumber, fills it with lunch meat, and calls it a low carb sandwich. I’m not a four-year-old someone is trying to trick into eating my peas by hiding them in something I like. I’m a grown up. If I want to eat more veggies, that’s what I’ll do. If I want to cut out carbs, that’s what I’ll do.
I don’t need someone trying to fool me using the lies they choose to tell themselves.