On January 4 (which feels like a long time ago), Chipotle announced the release of its new cilantro-lime cauliflower rice, a limited time menu offering. The timing of this announcement—at the beginning of the year, the time of New Year’s resolutions and diets galore—wasn’t a coincidence. In fact, the product is described in the press release as “a new rice option that is compliant with Keto, Whole30®, Paleo, Vegan, and Vegetarian diets.”
Cauliflower has, in recent years, become a super popular diet tool for anyone cutting carbs. It can mimic rice, starchy potatoes, and the flour in pizza crust. A lot of Twitter users were more than delighted by the announcement that Chipotle will now swap rice with riced cauliflower for an additional fee.
I was particularly interested because I’m not a rice-in-my-burrito or rice-in-my-burrito-bowl person. It’s just a bunch of starch crowding the other ingredients. But cauliflower rice offers an extra helping of generally neutral-tasting vegetables to add fiber and at least a touch of supplemental nutrition, which sounded good on paper to me. Along with the cauliflower rice, Chipotle also debuted four new pre-designed burrito bowls featuring the cauliflower rice: a Whole30 Bowl, a Keto Bowl, a Vegetarian Salad Bowl, and a Vegan Bowl.
Out of all of them, for this review, I selected the Keto bowl, because it’s the diet that I’ve been hearing about the most from friends and family. While the ketogenic diet began as a way to treat epilepsy in children in the 1920s, its high fat and low carb practice has come around to be a popular weight loss diet. It seems like I can’t go a day without hearing about it.
I went with the default version of the Keto bowl: cilantro-lime cauliflower rice, chicken, tomatillo-red salsa, cheese, and guacamole, no substitutions, no additions. It’s listed as $11.80, but once I added the meal to the online shopping cart, it inexplicably shot up to $13.30 with zero modifications.
I’m going to warn you right now, Chipotle’s cauliflower rice is not cheap. At my location, it’s an additional $2.25 to sub out the brown or white rice options with the cauliflower in any menu item. When the bowl arrived, as you can see in the photo above, the contents had shifted to one side (that’ll never stop being funny to me unless it’s a sad lopsided pizza). No big deal, except that it revealed just how little the bowl amounted to with the cauliflower rice in it. This is easily the smallest portion of food I’ve ever received at Chipotle. Normally a Chipotle bowl or burrito is enough to knock me on my ass.
I dug in and found the little mound of cauliflower rice under the other fillings. In terms of flavor, the cauliflower is seasoned with a ton of lime juice, and unfortunately, a lot of salt too, almost too much. Combined with the default tomatillo-red salsa, each bite screams with acid, so take note, heartburn-sensitive friends. It gets a little old when your whole bowl is based on an an acidic slog that never lets up. If you pay close attention, you can taste the cauliflower, but barely. Maybe that’s the point.
As you can see from the closeup photo, the texture of the cauliflower rice is also extremely soft—think translucent, finely chopped, sautéed onions. If you’re someone who mixes your whole bowl together before diving in, you’re not going to even notice the cauliflower at all, and this isn’t an exaggeration. It’s that soft, meaning that, in my opinion, it’s really overcooked. It almost seems like this is by design, based off how uniformly soft it is. But I imagine there’s just no easy way to cook cauliflower on this scale; it will simply continue to cook while it’s being held on a steam table for service.
Because the cauliflower rice substitution is nearly as expensive as a big plop of delicious, luxurious guacamole, and because it comes in such a tiny, overseasoned portion, and because it is so soft, I really can’t recommend it at an extra $2.25. Which is sort of a letdown, knowing how excited so many people were for it. If you’re looking for more veggies in your bowl, I’d opt for extra fajita veggies. Those will give you something to sink your teeth into.