As far as health food trends go, cauliflower rice has been around for so long that it now feels less like a low-carb trend and more just like any other once-“healthy” thing everyone eats, like granola or kombucha. With the growth of Paleo and keto diets, and the anti-carb movement’s refusal to die, cauliflower rice picked up on the internet around 2015 and was huge by 2017. As soon as it boomed, it drew haters: particularly, Big Rice.
USA Rice called out “rice pretenders” in 2017, asking the FDA for better regulation of food labeling. “Vegetables that have gone through a ricer are still vegetables, just in a different form,” Betsy Ward, president and CEO of USA Rice, said in the statement, adding that “only rice is rice.” In a TASTE piece from 2018, a spokesperson for the group even called the cauliflower product “a bit malicious and maybe nefarious.”
To date, the fight over food labeling has mostly centered on milk and meat, as the growing popularity of plant-based diets has inspired countless dairy and meat substitutes. On Monday, Arkansas became the sixth state to pass “truth in labeling” bills around meat—but, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the state is the first to bring the issue of rice into the legislation.
The Arkansas bill outlines how food words can be used. “Rice,” it states, can only mean “the whole, broken, or ground kernels” from the species Oryza sativa L. or Oryza glaberrima, or from one of the four grass species in the Zizania or Porteresia genus (i.e., wild rice). Violating those labels could mean fines.
By that definition, most alt-rices would need to find a new name, since squishing a head of cauliflower through a ricer definitely doesn’t meet that criteria and neither does chickpea “rice.” It’s not terribly clear where products like RightRice, which are rice-shaped grains made from a mix of legumes and actual rice, would stand, but the quick invention of all these new health food products is definitely keeping lawmakers on their toes.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the controversy over cauliflower rice is playing out in Arkansas: according to USA Rice, over 40 percent of American rice is grown in Arkansas, where the rice industry makes up about 20,000 jobs and creates $1.3 billion for the state’s economy per year. As cauliflower rice becomes increasingly popular in grocery stores, sure, maybe some people are opting for that instead—but if you’ve ever had it, you’ll definitely agree that as far as flavor goes, it still can’t beat rice.