Hear Us Out: Cauliflower Isn't Actually The Best Veggie-Based Pizza Crust

Between fierce debates over Chicago or NYC-style pies and unshakable opinions on toppings like pineapple, pizza is polarizing. Adding something like alternative crust into the mix can be downright nuclear. But whether you have a food allergy, a desire to get more fiber in your diet, or an interest in trying something new and crazy in the kitchen, substituting produce into your usual pizza recipe can be a good thing, we promise. You just have to know what you're doing — or let someone else do the experimenting for you.
Because we were most familiar with the cauliflower pizza crust craze, we decided to start there, before trying out sweet potato and zucchini. Below we outline how each of these crusts stacked up in overall assembly ease, durability, texture, and taste. Warning: There's one version that might win over the purest of pizza enthusiasts.

Sweet Potato Crust

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
I started with an easy 3-ingredient sweet potato crust recipe that I pulled from food blog Pinch of Yum. It caught my eye because it was so simple, calling only for cubed sweet potato, rolled oats, and an egg (plus some salt, garlic powder, and olive oil for seasoning and structure).
Overall Assembly: Easy
Assembly was swift and easy: I preheated the oven to 400°F, threw all of the ingredients into a food processor, pulsed until blended, and then spread onto an oiled sheet pan to bake in the oven for a total of 25 minutes.
Durability: Crumbly
Pre-bake: The dough felt like a slightly wet and crumbly paste, but held together well and was easy to mold. Post-bake: The dough was soft and crumbly — it required a fork and knife to pick up the "slices."
Texture: Soft
A bite of the sweet potato slice was soft and damp in the center with crispier outer edges — the dough could have used flour instead of, or in addition to, the oats for a better binding and drier overall mixture.
Taste: Sweet & Savory
A delicious combination of sweet and savory — I sprinkled the dough with a mozzarella-parmesan mixture before topping with chopped spinach, sautéed garlic chicken sausage, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Zucchini Crust

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
I followed a zucchini crust recipe from food blog Gimme Delicious that called for a total of five ingredients: zucchini, flour, shredded cheese, an egg, and Italian seasoning. Although I was already tight with zucchini fritters and zoodles, I'd never considered a zucchini pizza crust. This recipe was unchartered territory, and I was equal parts skeptical and intrigued.
Overall Assembly: Moderate
Assembly was a bit more intensive than with the sweet potato dough: After preheating the oven to 500°F, shredding and squeezing the moisture out of my zucchini, I threw all of the ingredients into bowl, mixed with a spoon, and spread onto an oiled sheet pan to bake in the oven for a total of 15 minutes.
Durability: Firm
Pre-bake: The dough felt like a very wet and sticky paste that was difficult to mold and spread onto the sheet pan. (I had to add additional flour in order to handle it.) Post-bake: The dough was firm enough to slice and eat without needing a fork or knife, and actually rose a bit during the baking process, which gave it a more classic texture.
Texture: Crispy
The dough was soft and chewy to bite into, with a nice crispy bottom layer.
Taste: Savory — Like Pizza
I dressed this particular dough with more classic pizza toppings (e.g. red sauce and a mozzarella-parmesan mixture), and the overall flavor was way more traditional than the sweet potato version. I barely tasted the zucchini, which in the end, was in a 4:1 ratio to the flour.

Cauliflower Crust

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
I found a cauliflower recipe from Minimalist Baker with a total of nine ingredients (the most out of the three alternatives). It called for the following: riced cauliflower, flax eggs (a water and flax seed mixture), sea salt, parmesan cheese (sub nutritional yeast for vegan version), oregano, basil, garlic, cornstarch, and cornmeal. Having made cauliflower crust in my past to lackluster results, I braced myself for a struggle.
Overall Assembly: Difficult
Assembly was more difficult than I'd like for a weeknight meal: I preheated the oven to 375°F, and instead of throwing all ingredients into a food processor, I had to take several separate steps. First, I had to rice the cauliflower in my food processor (breaking down a head of that stuff is painful). Once I had the rice, I then had to cook it in boiling water (in order to soften it), strain it, let it cool, and ring out the excess moisture with several paper towels. After that, I had to prepare the flax egg mixture and let that sit for five minutes before I could proceed to combining the actual dough. Once combined in a bowl, I spread the dough onto an oiled and cornmeal-sprinkled sheet pan to bake in the oven for a whopping total of 45 minutes (plus an additional 10-12 for crispiness and toppings).
Durability: Mushy
Pre-bake: The dough felt like a wet and crumbly paste, similarly to the sweet potato, but was more difficult to mold. Post-bake: The dough was soft and mushy (not crumbling into pieces, but pulling apart). It required a fork and knife, if not a spoon, to eat. Although the edges were beginning to burn and crisp, the center of the crust appeared not fully cooked — and after an hour of kitchen time with this recipe, I threw in the oven mitt and took it out.
Texture: Soft
The cauliflower crust was soft and soggy in the center with the tiniest bit of crisp on the outer edges. Either I did not do a thorough enough job of ringing out the excess water, or my oven temperature was off — regardless, the end result was by far the most disappointing of the three.
Taste: Like Cauliflower Soup
Maybe it was due to the texture fail, but my cauliflower crust (even when covered in melty cheese and a sprinkle of salt and pepper) tasted like a soup instead of the white pizza I had intended. If I ever brave this recipe again, I'll be adding more spices and flour to the mixture in order to combat the powerful cauliflower flavor.

The Winning Crust: Zucchini

Despite the trendy cauliflower craze, underdog zucchini swept in and stole the alternative crust show. Its mild flavor and moist (but not wet) texture made it an ideal stand-in for a classic flour-heavy dough — so much so, that my unsuspecting roommate was unable to guess the secret ingredient. That said, sweet potato and cauliflower can bring interesting taste combinations to the table. It may just take a bit more effort to get the ratios right and make sure your oven doesn't go rogue...

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series