Who has a steak in promoting food fads, asks Saskia Murphy

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There are a number of things you can do with a cauliflower. It can be drowned in cheese sauce and baked in the oven. It can be drizzled in olive oil and roasted. It can be coated in spices and stirred into a curry. It can even be baked into a cake.

The cauliflower is a respected vegetable in its own right, and it has been doing quite well for generations. In fact, the earliest reference to the modern cauliflower goes back as far as the first century, when Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder included what he called cyma among his descriptions of cultivated plants in his book Natural History. “Of all the varieties of cabbage the most pleasant-tasted is cyma,” he writes.

Pliny’s descriptions are understood to refer to the flowering heads of an earlier cultivated variety of Brassica oleracea, but experts believe he comes close to describing the modern cauliflower that forms a vital part of a traditional Sunday roast. The cauliflower is then found again in the writings of the Arab botanists Ibn al-’Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar in the 12th and 13th centuries, and in 1822 it was introduced to India by the British.

History shows us that the cauliflower has been a big hit for centuries, yet today, in 2018, our obsession with going carb/meat/gluten/lactose/fat/sugar free means we seem hellbent on finding a new purpose for the humble veggie.

It started with cauliflower rice – a miserable alternative to a global staple that has kept the vast majority of the planet nourished for thousands of years. Then it was cauliflower pizza bases. Then Tesco released its Real Food series – an initiative designed to encourage shoppers to cook healthy food from scratch. All well and good, until they introduced us to Sal and her recipe for cauliflower steaks. According to Sal, a cauliflower head can be cut into four to six 2cm “steaks”. The steaks should then be brushed with olive oil and seasoned with cumin and paprika and roasted in the oven. Sal serves said steaks with a bulgar wheat and quinoa salad and says her meat-eating boyfriend has been “converted”. For the purpose of this column, I attempted to make one of Sal’s steaks. It was actually quite tasty, but it wasn’t a steak. There was nothing steaky about it. It was a chunk of cauliflower seasoned and roasted in the oven, which as mentioned above is a tried and tested way of cooking the vegetable.

Sainsbury’s is another supermarket to embrace the vegetable steak trend. For the sum of £2 shoppers can purchase two chopped and seasoned cauliflower steaks, which the store says are a great alternative to chicken breasts or meat.

The obesity crisis looming across the Western world has encouraged a flurry of food fads to take off over the past decade. Whether it’s courgetti, buddha bowls or green juices, we are part of a generation obsessed with what we are putting into our bodies. People didn’t eat cauliflower steaks in the 1970s, but you only have to watch an episode of Top of the Pops 2 to see the public wasn’t plagued by the same health worries as today. Let’s just enjoy food for what it is. Steak or no steak.

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