Experimenting with Cauliflower Pizza (and the Diabetes Effect)

 Ah, pizza... the complex carby food that so many of us in the Diabetes Community hate to love, and vice versa. The blood sugar effect is almost always an adventure, one that can be hit or miss depending on how well-versed we are in that ever-so-tricky Pizza Bolus.

But with lower-carb options becoming more mainstream, it's almost like we're witnessing the birth of a new era of Pizza and Diabetes...

Enter cauliflower pizza, which started out with Pinterest creations and has exploded in just the past couple years throughout the food industry -- especially in 2017 with new brands being launched and some big-name retail and online stores getting in on the action.

My wife and I have been experimenting in the kitchen quite a bit more with lower-carb food choices, making several cauliflower pizza meals lately that swap out the traditionally high-carb, starchy flour crusts for those made with this versatile white veggie. It's ranged from our own homemade crusts created with a head of organic cauliflower, to taste-testing pre-made boxed crust varieties.

We've tried everything from square to circle, thin crunchy crust and thicker, chewy crust. Whatever your preferences, pizza can be a lot of fun -- from simple cheese and pepperoni, to pies loaded up with a mixture of fave toppings like pepperoni, mushroom, peppers, olives, chunks of meat, bacon, or even ham and pineapple. And of course, melted cheese all over the top.

OMG, PIZZA! My mouth is starting to water just writing this.

Homemade Cauliflower Pizza

When we were ready to take the plunge and try turning a head of cauliflower into something resembling pizza crust in our own kitchen, we discovered there's no magical "best practice" recipe. But one that caught my eye came from a Diabetes Daily Grind post by fellow T1 Amber Clour. There are dozens more online, but this is the one we've used and come to trust in our homemade creations.

The full recipe is here, and the single head of cauliflower needed (we use organic, but that's not required) is the crust of the story... :) All told, it takes maybe 40 minutes from start to finish with prep-time included. Here's how we do it:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Wash and dry the head of cauliflower.
  • Cut off the florets, and put them in a food processor for about 30 seconds. Not longer, because you want to end up with roughly 2-3 cups of a "powdery, snow-like consistency."
  • Put the "cauliflower snow" into a microwave-safe bowl, cover and heat for about 4 minutes.
  • Let it cool. This heating will make it wet, so now the fun part -- wrap it up in a towel and take out your aggression on it! Seriously, wring out the wetness any way you like. This may take some time, but you want it to be as non-watery as possible to ensure a chewy pizza crust that isn't crumbly.
  • Mix the cauliflower with all the other ingredients in a bowl, and once that's done use your hands to form the dough into whatever pizza crust shape you want. We put parchment paper down on a baking sheet, and use it to create a relatively thin layer.
  • Total bake time is anywhere from 22-30 minutes, depending on your preference for a crunchier crust. We bake for 15 minutes, flip it when it's a nice golden brown, and then bake for another 10 minutes. Handy tip: since the cauliflower crust can break easily, we've started using an extra baking sheet, putting that on top for an easy flip. This has helped us make more flawless, circular crusts!
  • Now it's time to add whatever toppings you like! My wife and I actually have different pizza preferences so we do half-and-half -- just cheese and pepperoni on half, and for me everything -- olives, mushrooms, bacon, and so on. Add the sauce and then stick it back into the oven for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is beautifully melted and bubbly. Of course you can opt for vegetarian or vegan options for the toppings, but that's not something we personally do, so I'll leave it up to everyone's own preferences and Google skills to explore.
  • Let it cool down a bit and enjoy!

Along the way, we've pretty much perfected our version of homemade cauliflower pizza!

Of course, there have been some fails along the way too... not necessarily in taste, but form. Our initial attempts were a bit lopsided, and one larger crust fell apart completely when we unsuccessfully tried to flip it with a spatula -- which led to us enjoying several multi-sized mini pizzas, which were still yummy!

Over time, we've gotten better at sculpting our crust to turn out how we want it. And we've intentionally made mini pizzas sometimes, and even Halloween-themed faces with pepperoni and olives.

Most importantly, we've had fun making these lower-carb, cauliflower pizzas and finding what we like the best.

Plus, this has all had a spectacular effect in the context of my diabetes...


The Diabetes Effect

Obviously, cauliflower pizza is more "diabetes friendly" than traditional types of pizza with flour crust. It's not rocket science -- fewer carbs means less spiking of glucose levels, so there's no need to "chase it" with large amounts of insulin. 

Keep in mind that a regular slice of pizza can range from roughly 30g to 40g of carbs each; thin crusts may be around 23g or so per slice, and thicker stuffed crust varieties can be much higher at 50g or more per slice. A slice of cauliflower pizza, on the other hand, can have as few as 3-5 grams of carb!

The cauliflower pizza takes longer to work it's way into the blood stream than the flour-made stuff, so it doesn't have that complex carb effect that often shoots our glucose levels up many hours later. Nope, this cauliflower pizza is more tame, and I've found that my insulin works fine without having to mess with any fancy "extended boluses."

I'm not doing that sort of thing anyway these days since I'm using Afrezza inhaled insulin most of the time; I've found its quick-action within 20 minutes is able to counter any significant spikes and I've been pretty much able to maintain flat lines.

That's a very appealing prospect, especially when it comes to checking my CGM data in the hours after my meal and overnight. While results can vary depending on what else I've enjoyed with the pizza, particularly any alcohol or drinks of choice that may shoot my BGs higher, it's nice to have reliability -- not something I've traditionally ever had, when it comes to navigating pizza!


Pre-Made Cauliflower Pizza Brands

While interest in cauliflower pizza has certainly surged in the past few years, it's still not mainstream and isn't always easy to find in a grocery store (despite the red-hot gluten-free trend). A quick Google search shows the few name brands that appear to be most popular:

Caulipower Pizza

Launched in early 2017 as "the first innovator of cauliflower pizza crust," this Los Angeles-based startup uses the promotional hashtag #TrustTheCrust and has been described by some as the "Meryl Streep of Pizza," even though it's so new. The backstory's pretty interesting in itself (as reported by Forbes), and worth a read.

So far, this is the only pre-made pizza crust brand we've tried. We found it at one of our local produce stores here in Michigan, but it appears you can also buy it on Amazon and at thousands of retail store locations across the U.S., as well as the company's own online store.

There are several styles -- plain cauliflower crust, veggie, Margarita, and three-cheese -- and it's an easy meal to make in less than 20 minutes.

Carb count: one whole pizza crust has 78g of carbs (divided into five slices, that's 15.6g per slice).

It has less cauliflower taste than our own creation, which I don't mind, and my wife says she actually liked it better than our homemade cauliflower crust.


Cali'Flour Foods Pizza Crust

This one is also California-based and may not be as easy to find in retail locations nationwide, but it can be purchased online at Amazon and the company's store. It comes in original Italian, spicy jalapeno, sweet red pepper and dairy-free plant-based varieties.

Nutrition info for original style: Whoa, this one apparently only has 6g carbs for an entire pizza crust, meaning it's only about 1.5g per slice! Definitely a super low-carb option there!

And this one gets an average 5-star rating out of 940 reviews on the company's website. Fans claim the crust tastes so good that it can be eaten alone, like pizza bread, for dipping in hummus and such. We're excited to try it soon!


Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pizza Crust

In early 2017, Trader Joe's added cauliflower pizza crust to its lineup of products. The company claims that was so popular, they couldn't keep it on shelves. Now they've also added a full ready-to-eat Cheese Pizza with Cauliflower Crust, that they're happily reminding people is gluten-free. From info online, it seems to get mixed reviews -- some say it's great, while others say even cheese can't save it. Opinions may vary.

Nutrition info for the crust says one slice (out of 6) has 17g of carb, so that means each full pizza would have 102g, not counting toppings.

'Mine editor AmyT and her family have tried the TJ's cauliflower crust, and she says they all quite like the consistency -- chewy with crunchy edges if cooked right, and not too mealy. She says they like to add Mediterranean toppings, like sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta cheese.


Absolutely Gluten-Free Brand

This one is meticulously gluten-free, without a trace of flour or wheat, rice, soy, corn, etc. Online info says there's a classic cheese and dairy-free version. Note that instead of one pie, each package contains three mini pizzas, "all barely bigger than a Bagel Bite," according to some reviewers.

The nutritional info shows these mini pizzas contain 21g of carbs each. 

Again the taste got mixed reviews, with some describing the crust as having a "soft pillow-like consistency" whereas some just said it was "mushy and flavorless." The Amazon reviews on this one are particularly cringy.

To try for yourself, you can find it online as well as in nationwide stores like Whole Foods, Walmart and more.


Paleo Pizza Crust Mix

For another option that's not made with cauliflower but is plant-based, there's also this Paleo Pizza Crust Mix from Julian Bakery. It contains almond flour, arrowroot flour, pumpkin powder, dried egg whites, Xantham gum, and some nuts. That may sound funky, but it gets an average of 4 stars out of 339 reviews on Amazon, so it can't be all bad.

Actually reviewers say the taste is pleasant -- if a bit almond-y -- but you need to be sure to bake it long enough that it doesn't stay raw in the center.

It has 15g of carb per one ounce of the powdered product, which is a little hard to translate into an individual pizza slice, but it's pretty low-carb to be sure.

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These are just a small sampling of what's on offer in the growing cauliflower trend. Personally, these are great options to be mindful of when blood sugars are high or I'm not wanting to deal as much with higher sugars in the hours afterward. It's all a choice, of course. Lower carb choices like this only go so far as they aren't silver bullets.

We have enough wackos in the D-Community aggressively pushing low carb, so I'll be having none of that... caul-crap... here.


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