Which viral food trends are worth making again, and which ones should be forgotten about? Kate Ng ranks TikTok’s biggest 2021 food hits from best to worst
There’s no escaping it: when it comes to setting food trends, TikTok is where it’s at. When recipes go viral on the social media platform, they go far beyond the screen in our hands, entering our kitchens and bellies as swiftly as swiping to the next video.
The success of recipes such as baked feta pasta and salmon rice is so huge that TikTok is planning to open hundreds of “ghost kitchens” across the US with the singular purpose of dishing up these viral goodies. The platform wants to open 300 locations initially, with 1,000 more expected by the end of 2022.
Keen foodies wanting to recreate the viral recipes in their own homes have also spurred a growth in supermarket sales. Ocado saw sales of pickled garlic soar by 337 per cent after TikTok food influencer Lala (@lalaleluu) raised eyebrows with her Spicy Pickled Garlic recipe. In a video seen by millions on the app, Lala said she eats a jar of the pungent cloves by the spoonful.
There were also reports of a feta shortage in Finland after Finnish TikToker Jenni Hayrinen’s baked feta pasta recipe became the must-try dish for home cooks everywhere. Hayrinen wrote on her blog last year that sales for feta cheese rose by 300 per cent due to the recipe’s popularity, adding that “shops were running out of baked feta pasta ingredients”.
But is everything that becomes famous on TikTok worth the hype? Which ones are worth making again, and which ones should we forget ever happened? We tried them all so you don’t have to, here is our ranking from best to worst:
Salmon rice bowl
What started out as a recipe to use up leftover cooked salmon and rice, first posted by TikToker Emily Mariko, became a meal that spread like wildfire through the app. The video, which has been watched more than 60 million times, piqued everyone’s interest when it showed Mariko using an ice cube to reheat her rice in the microwave.
Nestling the ice cube into the middle of her rice and covering it with baking paper creates steam in the microwave without adding too much moisture to the dish. The hack has been described as a “game-changer” by many who tried it for themselves.
But beyond the microwave hack, the meal also won hearts over for its major umami hit. Once the rice and salmon are reheated, Mariko drizzles over soy sauce (umami), sriracha (more umami) and Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise (completing the umami trinity). She then mashes all the ingredients up together, adds avocado and some kimchi on the side and uses the mixed rice to fill sheets of nori (seaweed), like sushi hand rolls.
Despite looking completely revolting, thanks to the expert use of condiments, this dish is surprisingly delicious. The flakes of cooked salmon combined with the garlicky sriracha and tangy Kewpie is a mouthwatering combination, while the use of nori sheets is a textural stroke of genius, adding a much-needed crispness to the soft rice.
It’s also very versatile. You can use freshly-cooked rice and hot smoked salmon or trout, which also works really well for this dish. Playing around with different vegetables will yield different textures and flavour combinations. Whichever way you choose to eat it, this recipe is one we’ll be making again and again.
Gigi Hadid’s vodka pasta
Supermodel Gigi Hadid set her culinary prowess in stone when she won the US version of Celebrity Masterchef in 2016, so we’re eager to take notes when she cooks. While she posted the recipe on her Instagram account in February, it quickly found its way to TikTok and became an instant viral hit.
Hadid’s recipe is essentially penne al vodka: a rich tomato sauce cooked with cream and vodka that became popular during the 1970s. However, Hadid adds a couple of her own touches, using pasta shells instead of penne and adding red pepper flakes.
The recipe also calls for olive oil, garlic, onion, tomato paste, double cream, vodka, butter, parmesan, basil, and seasoning. It sounds like a long list, but they’re all pretty basic ingredients you probably already have at home. It’s a doddle to make, taking just over 10 minutes including boiling the pasta.
You can easily make it without vodka. However, if you’re making it without the vodka, you might need to use a little bit more of water used to boil the pasta to help the sauce bond and emulsify. We love the intense flavours delivered by this dish, which is so comforting. And, with murmurings of another lockdown being imminent, comforting is exactly what we want.
Baked feta pasta
There was a time earlier this year when you just couldn’t get away from the baked feta pasta recipe. It was everywhere, despite the fact that the exceedingly simple recipe appeared to have been first published by Hayrinen in 2019. Its resurgence this year came while we were still in lockdown and had exhausted our at-home culinary patience – we were in desperate need for something easy, yet new, effortless, yet delicious.
The dish certainly delivers on all fronts on paper. It doesn’t require many ingredients, namely fresh tomatoes, a block of feta, fresh basil, olive oil, pasta, garlic and seasoning. It requires zero skill other than an ability to boil paste and place all the ingredients in an oven-proof dish before chucking it into the oven for around half an hour.
We tried the recipe out at the peak of its 2021 fame but our tester wasn’t wholly convinced, remaining uncertain about whether it really deserved all the hype it got given it started to taste “quite samey” after four mouthfuls and eating half a block of feta “felt like an attack on [her] body and digestive system”.
Like most TikTok recipes, the baked feta pasta can be modified based on personal tastes. Some food influencers recommend adding herbs like tarragon or spices like red chili flakes to amp up the flavour. Others suggest adding vegetables like broccoli, or using a mix of different cheeses such as mozzarella or cream cheese along with the feta. Whatever you do, don’t forget to season it well – such a rich and creamy dish cries for it!
The origins of the wrap hack are murky, but it first emerged among TikTokers in January. We think it’s virality is down to the fact that it makes for a great work-from-home lunch that’s super quick and results in a tidy, handheld meal that’s not a sandwich.
How does it work? Divide a round flour tortilla into four quadrants. Make a slice halfway through the wrap, and then place ingredients of your choice onto each quadrant – literally anything goes.
Once your fillings are laid out in each quadrant, fold each quadrant until you have a triangle-shaped wrap. You can then place it flat in a hot pan to toast it on both sides, or eat it as it is. It’s a convenient method of making a wrap without much mess, and we love that you have the option of eating it either hot or cold – lazy and versatile, we are into it.
When the baked oats trend first started making its way around TikTok, influencers framed the idea as “having cake for breakfast” – which naturally made everyone else sit up and take notice. Who doesn’t want to eat cake for breakfast?? While no one knows where the original recipe came from, its popularity is enduring, with the #bakedoats hashtag accumulating 950 million views at the time of writing.
There are hundreds of variations, but the most basic baked oats recipe has a cup of oats, a cup of milk, a banana, an egg, baking soda and some honey or maple syrup. All the ingredients are placed in a blender and blended into a smooth batter, then sprinkled with chocolate chips and baked in a ramekin for 15 minutes or so.
We tried it and have a few notes. The dish is best eaten while it’s still hot, otherwise it becomes cement-like. Also, load up on fruit or chocolate when making the batter to cut through the claggy of the oatmeal, which tends to stick to the roof of your mouth.
Overall, it’s a nice recipe and can be tweaked in endless ways to make it tastier and healthier, which makes it fun to experiment with. But why get a mixer out and turn on the oven and wait 15 minutes, when you could cook oats on the hob and add whatever you want to it in less than 10 minutes?
We like pasta. We like chips. So when TikTok came up with a pasta chips recipe, we knew we had to try it.
Unfortunately, we were sorely disappointed, but this might have been because none of us have an air fryer. Nearly everyone on foodie TikTok seems to be obsessed with these compact ovens, and the most popular pasta chips recipes instruct you to cook them in one. But our tester Saman Javed had to make do with her regular oven when she tested the recipe, which involves boiling pasta, coating them in olive oil, parmesan and seasoning, and cooking in the air fryer or oven until crisp.
Saman’s verdict: “The actual flavour of them wasn’t bad, but the texture was not good. Maybe because I made them in the oven as opposed to the air fryer, parts of the chips were crispy while others felt like I was biting into plastic. Definitely not worth the effort of the time, I’ll be sticking to potato crisps.”
We also think the type of pasta used might make a difference, given the shapes have varying thicknesses. But in any case, this is a recipe we’ll be leaving out of our repertoire unless we acquire an air fryer the near future – and even then, potato crisps will probably still have our hearts.
“Nature’s cereal” was a breakfast recipe dreamt up by TikToker Sherwayne Mears, who goes by the handle @natures_food. It became insanely popular after Lizzo posted a video of herself eating it and declaring herself “addicted”.
The “cereal” consists of blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate seeds and coconut water. Oh, and sometimes ice cubes. According to Lizzo’s review, she said: “It don’t know what it is about the coconut water but it’s like, creamy. And the pomegranates give you that crunch. And then the blueberries, of course – they put blueberries in cereal and candy.”
We tried it for ourselves, but in all honesty, we weren’t blown away by what is essentially a bowl of fruit swimming in coconut water. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s just kind of boring. However, we can see it being a really light, refreshing breakfast during hot summer mornings, so we might have to revisit it then.
Vegetable burger buns
We’re not sure there’s anything more joyless than the thought of replacing burger buns with bell pepper halves or lettuce, and we were right. This TikTok “hack” is huge among low-carb and keto diet followers, as it cuts out carbs completely by sandwiching burger ingredients between two vegetables instead of a soft, fluffy bread bun.
We overrode our skepticism to give it a try. Depending on your dietary requirements, you can make this with a meat-based patty and dairy cheese or with all-vegan ingredients, so it’s a versatile recipe. The most popular recipe uses two halves of a bell pepper and fills them with the burger ingredients just like you would fill a regular burger.
But our suspicions were proven right when we bit into this no-carb meal and felt only despair. Bell peppers are delicious, but the outer skin of the vegetable doesn’t yield to teeth as easily as a burger bun, which results in the fillings being squeezed out of every side of the burger. The hollow of the bell pepper does help keep some of it in, but it’s otherwise pretty messy. And you have to really like bell peppers to enjoy a burger this way, otherwise the vegetable’s flavour tends to overpower the other ingredients.
If you’re looking to cut down on carbs or you want a gluten-free alternative, then this vegetable burger bun hack might be one to try. But honestly, if you’re going to have a burger, treat yourself and have the bread bun too. Life’s too short!