Photo: Zee Krstic

We crunched the numbers—and the noodles—to figure out what's cheapest, easiest, and tastiest.

Zee Krstic
February 05, 2018

Whether you love them or hate them, there's no denying it—one of the most ubiquitous trends in our kitchens this year has been spiralized veggies. Regardless of the season or the recipe, the spiralizer has given cooks a way to substitute pasta or carb-heavy noodles with fresh, elegantly curled squash, beets, and other root vegetables.

And while we were working our way through nearly every kind of spiralized veggie there is, the veggie noodle went from nifty kitchen hack to full-on mainstream dish.

Leave it to Green Giant, one of the most recognizable names in the frozen aisle, to try and capitalize on the trend. While many retailers and supermarkets now offer pre-spiralized vegetables in their produce and deli sections—a purchase that can feel extravagant in itself—Green Giant took it upon themselves to launch an entire line of frozen spiralized veggies.

There are four different varieties—zucchini, butternut squash, beets, and carrots—and the brand is marketing this as a pasta substitute, with just six minutes of microwaving time before they're ready to eat.

The idea of skipping the time, prep and effort needed to put a fresh bowl of veggies noodles on the table sounds appealing enough. Especially if you have yet to invest in a spiralizer, which can be challenging. But then I took a look at the price tag: each of these frozen packages sell at $3.99 each.

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Is $4 for just over 3 cups of spiralized veggies worth it? And is it really cheaper than just heading to your store's prepared foods section? And what about quality—isn't the whole point of enjoying spiralized veggies the element of freshness? Maybe you should just spiralize the veggies yourself—it takes longer, but is cheaper, right?

With these questions in mind, we decided to test each and every route that you could possibly take for a simple lemon and garlic spiralized squash in our own test kitchen.

We decided to test spiralized butternut squash from three different sources—some from our very own spiralizer, prepared and packaged by a local supermarket, and Green Giant's frozen product.

We tossed each variety in a simple mixture: lemon juice and zest, diced rosemary, minced garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of parmesan cheese. And then we had a taste test, which you can measure against the cost of each kind of spiralized noodle and the difficulty of preparing the dish from start to finish.

 

1) Fresh Spiralized Butternut Squash

Total Time: 25 minutes

Total Cost: $4.93

Cost per pound: $1.49

Cost per 3oz serving: 60 Cents average

Difficulty: Hard

Photo: Zee Krstic

This was one of the first times I've ever created a spiralized veggie dish, and I was eager to try the old-fashioned approach. My goal was to have enough spiralized butternut squash for a single serving, so I picked up two medium-sized generic butternut squash—these retailed at $1.49 per pound. When calculating how the fresh squash stood up in cost in comparison to other options in the supermarket, you'll have to take into account that you're paying less because you're buying skins and other discarded bits that normally aren't sold with prepared options.

In the kitchen, I used a hand-operated traditional tabletop spiralizer as opposed to a fancy electronic one—I wanted to really see why exactly there would be a need to skip this step.

Only two minutes or so passed washing and peeling my squash, which was super easy. But once I approached the spiralizer with ready-to-go squash in hand, I felt a pang of fear and realized, for the first time, that I might have preferred to just get straight to cooking.

My first spot of trouble came into play when my squash wasn't cut properly to fit into the spiralizer—the ends were uneven, and I had to slice off the excess to get a flat surface to spiralize. The gadget requires a firm, steady, and patient hand—all things that I discovered I clearly lacked on first try. My first minutes were spent trying to keep the vegetable from falling, and then I realized that my veggie noodles were all different shapes and sizes because I wasn't applying equal pressure.

I took a minute to readjust, take a deep breath, and try again. I'm not going to lie: I gripped that squash with as much force as I could, and I ground the spiralizer like I was cutting through metal rather than a fresh vegetable. I even grit my teeth and let a grunt or two fly. It was more challenging than I thought it would be.

After spiralizing both squash, I just had enough for a single serving—I realized that I wasted a good amount in having to slice off the ends, and a few mistakes during the spiralizing itself meant I had to toss a few ugly chunks of misshapen squash. I timed myself with a stopwatch—from start to finish, it took me 10 minutes to successfully get through the butternut squash. If you are just as unfamiliar with the spiralizer as I am, I wouldn't be too shocked if you faced the same issue—but if you're more familiar with turning veggies into noodles, you should expect better results and more noodles for your buck.

In a pan, I quickly sauteéd the noodles in olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, minced garlic cloves, and finished it off with a pinch of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

In a taste test, editors said that spiralized squash did resemble the same consistency and texture of a longer pasta noodle, and that the flavor profile was fresh as can be. It seems my hard work paid off.

2) Prepared, Ready-to-Eat Spiralized Butternut Squash

Total time: 12 minutes

Total cost: $2.75

Cost per pound: $3.99

Cost per 3oz serving: .75 cents average

Difficulty: Easy

Photo: Zee Krstic

The second time around, I used a container of pre-packaged butternut squash packaged by my local Publix that had already been spiralized for me. I was shocked to see just how affordable this turned out to be. While Publix sells a full pound of the noodles for $3.99, the container I picked up had two-thirds of a pound inside, more than enough for a single serving, and was just $2.75.

This method of making a spiralized dish was shockingly easy and pleasurable. Given how much trouble I had with getting my squash spiralized in the first place, I was happy to get straight to work on what was at hand—I effortlessly minced my garlic, chopped my rosemary, and threw the pre-cut squash into a pan with the rest of the ingredients.

After about five minutes of sauteing, my squash was in a bowl and ready to eat. Immediately, I noticed and appreciated that each strand was equal in length and uniform. However, these veggie noodles were much shorter than those I was able to make with my own spiralizer.

Another difference between the freshly spiralized squash and this dish was the color—while it's unclear if the squash was treated in any way before being packaged, this plate of spiralized squash was visibly more vibrant and appealing.

During the taste test, editors were surprised to find a noticeable difference in texture: the dramatic crunch of the freshly cut vegetable wasn't as pronounced as the first time around. But the flavor profile and overall taste of each dish was similar.

3) Frozen Green Giant Spiralized Butternut Squash

Total time: 8 Minutes

Total cost: $3.99

Cost per pound: $5.32

Cost per 3oz serving: just about $1

Difficulty: Easy

Photo: Zee Krstic

The moment of truth had arrived—could a frozen variety be just as delicious as a fresh plate of spiralized veggies?

Per Green Giant's instructions, I placed the package on a microwave-safe plate and nuked it for exactly six minutes. Looking at the package's nutrition label, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was, in fact, no additives—the only ingredient listed was butternut squash, and the label itself was squeaky clean.

Since the squash was supposed to be "ready to eat" after being microwaved, I did not put the squash into a hot pan—I simply tossed it with the other ingredients that I had prepared and served it immediately. Throwing the dish together was a complete about-face from struggling with cranks and blades on the spiralizer earlier.

But that's where the magic stopped. In a taste test among the other dishes, all those who sampled the Green Giant's dish immediately remarked that the consistency was completely off—one staffer even mentioned that the squash tasted more "mashed" than spiralized. There was little resemblance to a spiralized vegetable, let alone the two other dishes, with Green Giant's product, and what's more is that the flavors weren't comparable, either.

While we applaud the brand's effort to stay away from additives, maybe they should consider flavoring—nearly every editor involved said that this squash was completely bland, in spite of the lemon, garlic, olive oil, cheese and rosemary.

The bottom line:

I wasn't truly surprised to discover that Green Giant's frozen option was not the best option—but I was shocked to realize just how much effort goes into creating spiralized veggie noodles from scratch. If you're looking to save some money and time, and most importantly, frustration, then ready to eat pre-spiralized veggies in your local supermarket is by far the best option for you. But if you're familiar with the gadget and not afraid of a challenge, there's something to be said about spiralizing your vegetables by hand. Maybe it's because they haven't been sitting on a shelf all day, or that they haven't been treated in any way, but many of our editors said the quality of flavor in the hand-spiralized squash just simply couldn't be beat.

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