What is a menu without cauliflower these days?

When California Pizza Kitchen announces its newest crust is made of cauliflower—that’s when you know. The beloved low-carb, gluten-free ingredient has gone from fringe trend to mainstream menu star.

The national pizza chain announced in late January that its newest nationwide rollout would be the introduction of a cauliflower pizza crust. CPK also touted the crust as a “unique source of vegetable fuel.”

“Rich in nutrients and low in carbs, cauliflower is a powerhouse ingredient that continues to show its versatility and popularity as the star—not the side—of the plate,” says Brian Sullivan, senior vice president of culinary innovation for CPK.

And, surprisingly, that’s what diners want more of these days: vegetables, or vegetables disguised or dressed up in unusual ways.

Pizza crust is just one way restaurants big and small are integrating the cruciferous chameleon into their menus. Hard Rock Cafe used cauliflower in a burger on its first-ever meatless menu. Major food vendor US Foods released spicy battered cauliflower as a product in late summer of 2017.

But for those watching the industry and its menus, this change has been a long time coming. Just ask Liz Vaknin, cofounder and experiential marketer at New York–based Our Name Is Farm. Vaknin and cofounder Shelley Golan work with local food growers as well as the consumer markets those farmers serve to bridge the gap. 

“I grew up noticing the versatility of this relatively cheap, hearty, and gluten-free vegetable that is very high in nutritional value if eaten fresh,” Vaknin says. “My family is of Jewish, Middle Eastern, and North African background, so growing up I ate cauliflower in many different versions: in a beef stew braised with turmeric, paprika, white pepper, and garlic; fried or roasted with tahini or yogurt and sumac; stuffed with seasoned lamb kefta and braised in a spiced tomato sauce; in root vegetable pickles preserved with turmeric and chilies; the list is never-ending.”

It’s quite a contrast to sneaking it into pizza crusts or mac and cheese, but that’s not a bad thing. As Vaknin puts it, everyone else is just catching up. Familiar iterations with cauliflower hidden inside could be the beginning.

“Americans are using cauliflower in applications that are already familiar to them, to make the vegetable more appealing, like in pizza, buffalo style, or mac and cheese,” Vaknin says. “Once they feel comfortable with the vegetable in general … I believe they’ll find more creative ways to prepare and consume it, too.”

Feature, Health & Nutrition, Menu Innovations, California Pizza Kitchen