In 2013, Alissandra "Ali" Maffucci watched her mom — who was exploring healthier cooking to ease her diabetes symptoms — transform zucchini into pale-green ribbons of pasta. As a woman with Italian-American roots and a love of pasta, Maffucci resisted her mom's zucchini noodles for awhile. (Pffft! Pasta schmasta!) But eventually she gave in and took a bite. And another. Then Maffucci wanted to spiralize too. And boy, did it change her life — influencing millions of future fans like us, with whom she shares her spiralizing techniques and tips.
"It's one of the ways to eat where you have your cake and eat it too," says Maffucci, who lost almost 30 pounds by incorporating spiralized meals and other healthy choices into her lifestyle. "The spiralizing movement touches home with people, especially people who love pasta."
That fateful evening of her first bite of those zucchini noodes (which some people call zoodles, but we aren't those people), Maffucci took her mom's spiralizer home and made her own faux-pasta the next night. Inspired, she looked for more recipes and was disappointed. "There was nothing on the Internet: I found only one recipe online, and it was a julienned zucchini dish," Maffucci says.
So Maffucci quit her corporate job, grabbed a table at a coffee shop the next day, and founded Inspiralized. As the spiralizing momentum grew, the healthy food blogger created her own spiralizing machine, and authored two New York Times best-selling cookbooks, including the latest, Inspiralized: Turn Vegetables into Healthy, Creative, Satisfying Meals.
What is Spiralizing Exactly?
Spiralizing is an artful slicing technique that turns vegetables and fruits into noodles. You need a tool to do it. Similar to julienning, it's an easier way (especially for nonprofessional cooks) to create consistently long, smooth strips of produce. Some look at it as a healthier substitute for regular pasta, and others think if it as a way to sneak more vegetables into the day. Spiralized meals are often gluten-free, low-carb, Paleo, Whole30, and friendly to vegan and vegetarian diets.
The vegetable-noodle technique is becoming so trendy, it's even turning up at restaurants such as Upper Story, a lunch spot for professionals in New York City's design district. There, Executive Chef Jennifer Day creates a dish of pesto zucchini noodles with arugula and oven-dried tomatoes. After Chef Franklin Becker was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he tried thinking of ways to make vegetables feel more indulgent, and he showcased those ideas on Top Chef Masters. Now Becker creates sweet potato, daikon radish, beet, carrot, celery root, turnip, and rutabaga noodle dishes for his Hungryroot company, which ships the ready-to-cook meals nationwide and is available at Whole Foods stores in New England and New York City.
Each gadget is different, but there are two main categories of spiralizers: handheld and countertop. A handheld spiralizer requires using your own muscle vertically or at a comfortable angle, and it's small enough to be stored in a kitchen utensil drawer. The countertop spiralizers have levers you can crank to do the work, usually horizontally, and they're bulkier and need to be stored in a kitchen cabinet. Prices can range from $6 to $50 for a spiralizer. In the higher-end versions, you can switch out the blades for noodles of different sizes and shapes.
Spiralizers work best on smooth, peeled, raw vegetables such as carrots and squash, and hard fruits such as apples and pears. They make great pastas, stir-fries, and salads. But so much more. That's where the cookbooks come in, which are often included, or can be added on, when you buy a spiralizer tool. Check out our favorites with detailed product comparisons in our Get Your Spiralizer on With These Tools gallery and Guide's Best Spiralizers.
The Method of Spiralizing
- Select straight foods for the most consistent, smooth, long noodles. If the produce isn't naturally straight, cut it into sections. Depending on your countertop device, vegetables 1½ inches in diameter are ideal. For handheld spiralizers, slightly smaller pieces of produce are preferred. If you can't find symmetrical produce, start with the larger end, or cut it so that it's symmetrical, like with a butternut squash.
- Wash produce. Cut off the ends, or only one end if you like to keep one end on for gripping, and peel if you don't want the outer skin, like with carrots.
- Center your vegetable or fruit on the spiralizer as much as possible. If you see it going off-center in the middle of spiralizing, readjust. This will create consistent noodles.
- If you have a handheld, turn the vegetable as you press it into the device's blades. For a countertop one, just turn the crank and let the gadget do it.
- Blot out excess moisture with a paper towel, or spiralize into a colander to let it drain and also pat it dry — this is especially necessary with watery vegetables such as zucchini.
- After you create a pile of noodles, you can leave it raw and add your dressing or sauce, or cook your noodles with a quick boil or sauté, between 30 seconds and a couple minutes, depending on the recipe.
- To restrict the liquid from the vegetable noodles from watering down your meal too much, you can also reduce your sauce until very little, if any, liquid remains and serve pasta noodles with pasta tongs to let noodles drip-dry. You can also try salting them, but Maffucci says that will make your zucchini shrivel up, and it can end up being too salty. "I discourage people from salting the zucchini because it wilts and becomes mushy," Maffucci says. "Then you can't control the consistency when you cook it, and you can never rinse all the salt away." If all else fails, cook zucchini noodles separately, drain in a colander, then put the finished sauce on top.
Prep and Cleanup
Besides resolving the watery nature of zucchini pasta, another top question people ask Maffucci is about meal preparation and planning. Can you incorporate spiralizing into your weekly meal planning and do the prep ahead of time to save those time-crunched weeknights? Oh, yes. Set the menu, spiralize, and then use preserve some vegetables in water in the fridge, and others that will brown, like apples, in lemon water. Try some of Maffucci's meal-planning ways.
To clean a spiralizer after your meal, read the product instructions, but there are general rules you can follow. Some devices are top-rack dishwasher safe, so go with that. If you clean it by hand, be extra careful of the sharp blades. Get a round palm brush. "Never use a sponge because it will tear up the sponge when it hits the blades," Maffucci says. "And please, don't jeopardize your fingers." Maffucci gives more cleaning tips in an instructional video.
So let's make some spiralized food already, shall we?
1. Blackened Tilapia with Chayote-Mango Pasta Salad
Spicy and sweet dance a beautiful dance in this show in which the mild fish is slathered in a flavor bomb of a spice blend including paprika, cayenne, garlic, onion, oregano, and cumin. And then there's the pasta salad, which brightens the fish with lightly dressed spirals of sweet mango and milder chayote, a pear-shaped fruit with white flesh in the gourd family along with melon, cucumber, and squash. Did we mention the fresh cilantro and mint? That's awesome too. Get our Blackened Tilapia with Chayote-Mango Pasta Salad recipe.
2. Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles
On the surface, the Romesco sauce looks like a tomato sauce. But once you dive in, you'll be swimming in a nutty, hearty flavor and texture that adds more heft to the meal. There is a half cup of almonds blended into this flavorful sauce. Get our Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles recipe.
3. Sweet Potato Noodles with Almond Cream Sauce
The ginger, lime, garlic, and cilantro that flavor these sweet noodles are inspired from Sweet Potato Soul blogger Jenné Claiborne's trip Thailand. You'll need almond butter and toasted, chopped almonds, both of which can be swapped for the peanut versions. It's quite a colorful, bright meal in the end. Get the recipe.
4. Linguine with Squash Noodles and Pine Nuts
This recipe blends traditional wheat pasta with yellow squash and zucchini pasta. It's still healthier. The pine nuts, ricotta salata cheese, and assorted fresh herbs really up the flavor, giving it main-meal status. Get our Linguine with Squash Noodles and Pine Nuts recipe.
5. Raw Spiralized Beet & Mandarin Salad with Mint
It's a simple salad by Gina Homolka of Skinnytaste, but it's bright and tangy, the say salad should be. Mandarin oranges, olive oil, and red wine vinegar dress the salad, dotted with fresh mint. Get the recipe.
6. Spiralized + Baked Old Bay Curly Fries
Instead of slicing long noodles, cut them short for a pile of fries, that are baked, not fried, but they have that classic Old Bay seasoning that makes the russet potatoes taste amazing. Get the recipe.
7. Gluten-Free Chicken Parmesan over Zucchini Noodles
This is like having your cake and eating it too. Get most of what you love about chicken Parmesan — those moist, breaded, chicken cutlets drizzled with marinara over a heap of pasta — but in a way that won't make you sick if you're allergic to gluten. Or in a way that you can feel good about if you want to eat healthier in general. Get our Gluten-Free Chicken Parmesan over Zucchini Noodles recipe.
8. Raw Carrot Pasta with Ginger-Lime Peanut Sauce
When you're craving a good Thai peanut sauce, try this version, which also incorporates roasted cashews for maximum satiety. OK, the texture and taste is nothing like pasta, but you do get a hearty, creamy nest of noodle-y, crunchy, fresh carrots. Get the recipe.
9. Foil Pouch Sea Bass
Colorful, sweet, spiralized bell peppers are the perfect partner for sea bass, which has a mild flavor itself and doesn't need anything to overpower it. You can prepare this low-cal meal with minimal mess and fast enough for it to be a good weeknight dinner option, says recipe creator Ali Maffucci. Get our Foil Pouch Sea Bass recipe.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.