Cauliflower is nabbed for impersonating rice

Vicky Boyd

Editor Vicky Boyd

What’s in a name? Everything, if you’re the Washington, D.C.-based USA Rice.

The organization has complained to the Food and Drug Administration that vegetable-based products that use “rice” in their name ­— such as Cauli Rice, Green Giant Riced Cauliflower, Trader Joe’s Rice Cauliflower and vegetable grower Apio’s Eat Smart Cauliflower Rice — are too confusing to the consumer.

“Vegetables that have gone through a ricer are still vegetables, just in a different form,” USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward said in a May statement. “Only rice is rice, and calling riced vegetables ‘rice’ is misleading and confusing to consumers.

“We may be asking the FDA and other regulatory agencies to look at this.”

Promoters of the cauliflower products counter by saying consumers are smart enough to figure out their wares are not real rice but a vegetable-based wannabe. They point to different beverages, such as soy milk, almond milk and even rice milk, as examples of how shoppers differentiate between real cow’s milk and similarly named products.

No so fast, says the National Milk Producers Federation, which is working to encourage the FDA to enforce the federal standard. It basically defines milk as a “lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

The milk definition is among 300 standards of identity under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act that the FDA is charged with enforcing. Take peanut butter, for example. It must contain at least 90 percent peanuts and no more than 55 percent fat. If the spread doesn’t meet the definition, such as some of the low-fat products, it must be called peanut spread or sandwich spread but not peanut butter. Even mayonnaise has a strict definition recently upheld by the FDA.

There’s a simple solution to the beverage brouhaha: Just rename the milk wannabe products “soy drinks” or “almond beverages” as manufacturers in Canada and Europe have been required to do.

In the case of the vegetable-based imitation rice, the FDA may need to draft a standard of identity that defines rice as the seed of a monocot (grass) that belongs to either the genus Oxyza or Zizania. That covers conventional rice as well as wild rice, respectively.

The standard also would allow impersonators to be labeled cauliflower crumbles or Bits O Cauliflower — anything but rice.