Why TikTok's Feta Pasta Isn't As Good As It Seems

Perhaps you've noticed that your local supermarket has been running short on feta cheese over the past few weeks? According to Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart's trends expert, during the month of February, sales of feta have absolutely surged (via Refinery 29). Some retailers are literally running out, leaving shelves and cold cases bare of this delicious cheese. So, what's happening? Turns out, there's a perfectly logical explanation for what amounts to a global run on feta cheese. 

Apparently, a certain feta pasta recipe has been breaking the internet of late, all thanks to TikTok's abundance of home cooks who have been making their own versions and then posting about them. The level of interest in this TikTok feta pasta recipe is nothing short of astounding, even at a time in history when TikTok has emerged as one of home cooking's most influential platforms. But does the TikTok feta pasta actually deserve all of the love and attention it's been getting? 

We understand that the TikTok feta pasta recipe's use of cherry tomatoes and feta cheese makes for a visually arresting and camera-ready tableau. But in terms of taste and basic cooking principles, we find ourselves scratching our heads. Here are all the reasons why the TikTok feta pasta is not actually as good as it might seem. 

Where did the TikTok feta pasta recipe come from?

Celebrity chefs of TikTok aside, and with the exception of simple, clever cooking hacks here and there, TikTok is not a purpose-made cooking platform. First, posts currently can't exceed a 60-second runtime (via Slate), which isn't nearly enough to do real cooking justice. Second, much of TikTok's content is, for the most part, pretty derivative. Take, for example, the TikTok feta pasta recipe that everyone's obsessing over.

The recipe seems to have come from a Finnish food blog, which may have adapted it from yet another Finnish blogger, who, arguably, may have adapted their own version from a classic Mediterranean dish involving grilling a block of feta cheese with tomatoes, olives, and herbs (via Smitten Kitchen). Wherever it originated, the TikTok feta pasta recipe basically involves baking a block of feta with cherry tomatoes and olive oil — and literally not much else — before topping it all with fresh basil. 

At some point after American Instagrammer McKenzie Smith posted about it in 2019, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, TikTokkers took it viral — so viral, in fact, that American sales of feta have gone through the roof in the past month, as Instacart's trends expert, Laurentia Romaniuk, told Mashed.

Those who love it clearly have their reasons

"It's easy to see why such a thing would go so far so quickly," wrote David Ellis in a delightfully "grumpy" review of the TikTok feta pasta recipe published in the Evening Standard. "It's startlingly simple and looks delicious," Ellis wrote. And that's exactly what we thought too. The Maillard-charred bright red tomatoes, juxtaposed with a melty hunk of cheese and resting in a pool of deeply golden extra virgin olive oil, delivers a visually arresting sight as well as a siren-song of warmth, simplicity, and abundant health. All that while we consciously think to ourselves, "Hey, I can do that!"

Indeed, many people did. With masks in place, they ran out to the grocery store, picked up a block of feta, a bag of cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of EVOO, turned on the oven, and, in relatively short order, had themselves a big ole pile of melty Mediterranean goodness. Many then tossed that result with boiled pasta and proceeded to eat with pride. Just ask Redditor Kareree, who gushed about it on Reddit. Of course, dig a little into Kareree's post, and you'll see that significant modifications were made, including the addition of mushrooms, artichokes, and spinach. That's because modifications are necessary, as we have discovered.

The TikTok feta pasta recipe makes for a one-dimensional dish

To be clear, we don't want to sound cranky, and we certainly don't want to ruin anyone's TikTok cooking fun. But the truth is that the recipe for TikTok feta pasta, which traces back to Finnish food blog Liemessa, makes for a rather bland finished product. As CrankyReviewerTwo posted on a Reddit thread devoted to the viral sensation, "It's very rich. Very filling. And it's bland." Accordingly, when they reheated their leftovers, they added mushrooms, ham, and some unidentified spices, which "made it more palatable," but overall, their verdict was "I will not add this dish to my weekday dinner rotation. It's not that interesting."

We couldn't agree more. However, we'd like to suggest that a pinch of thyme or rosemary, a sprinkling of oregano, and a liberal dusting of freshly cracked black pepper would do the trick without adding any additional animal fat as ham does. Now that we've gotten ourselves sufficiently worked up about joining rosemary, oregano, and pepper with thyme, we can't seem to let it go. And we're not gonna.

And why is garlic a mere afterthought?

The TikTok feta pasta recipe yields a gorgeous, aromatic, umami-flavored pasta "sauce", to be certain, though it doesn't quite make a classic sauce that you might see in a culinary school or high-class restaurant. But for the love of all that is wholly Mediterranean, where is the garlic? Yes, we know that in Jenni Häyrinen's recipe, garlic is mentioned, but literally only as an afterthought. At the very end of the recipe, she writes that "Garlic goes well with baked feta pasta. To add garlic cut four garlic cloves in half lengthwise, toss them at the same time as the tomatoes, and roll in olive oil." 

Well, treating garlic as an afterthought just makes us kinda sad. After all, as long as you're not cooking for the famously garlic-averse Queen Elizabeth II, why exactly would you not revel in all the glory of garlic? Luckily this is an easy fix. You can add halved garlic cloves before baking, or, in the spirit of keeping this recipe as simple and deconstructed as possible, you can feel free to simply toss a couple of whole garlic cloves in the oil you're using. Then, let them roast along with the tomatoes. Once the dish is done baking, you can simply mash the garlic as you mix the "sauce" together. 

TikTok feta pasta might be a little too tangy

Something else that seemed to vex some of the Redditors, at least those who shared their TikTok feta pasta cooking experiences via r/Cooking, is that starting out with an enormous block of feta cheese inevitably makes for a very tangy flavor profile. Redditor JoJamJule, who said they usually prefer food with a bit of a tang, felt compelled to add some honey to take the acidity of this particular dish down a notch. And that makes good sense to us, especially considering that the Finnish blogger who may have started all of this feta pasta stuff in the first place used honey in their recipe, too.

"I'm super into to simple recipes but this just wasn't balanced enough to be enjoyable with only the bare minimum ingredients," they wrote, suggesting that perhaps fans of feta would do better simply tossing some of it into some other light pasta dish, in effect using it the way people often use parmesan on pasta. Reddit user Mollofla suggested that the dish might benefit from a squeeze of lemon. We're not so sure about that, since lemon will only add to the tanginess. But something else Mollofla said with regard to the feta-forward flavor profile had us intrigued. 

The TikTok feta pasta recipe simply calls for too MUCH feta

It's possible that starting the TikTok feta pasta recipe off with a 7-ounce block of feta cheese might be getting everything going on the wrong foot entirely. As Reddit user Mollofla wrote, "I think it's crying out for a 30 to 50 percent reduction in the amount of feta." Reddit user 11463118 agreed. "I LOVE feta, but I saw a few of the videos and I personally think it's too much feta." 

Reddit user Chilly Willy 44 revealed that they had the opportunity to try the TikTok feta pasta recipe when their fiancé made it. Unfortunately, it did not go well. It was "absolutely horrendous. [I don't know how people] even eat this. Every bite is so overpowered by feta cheese it is brutal. I would never recommend this to anyone." As 11463118 pointed out, for those who like feta but don't want to be overwhelmed by the flavor, there's always the possibility of simply crumbling feta cheese on cooked pasta, rather than cooking it first, reducing the intensity of the flavor.

The recipe doesn't discuss how to choose the right feta

The thing about feta that we haven't seen discussed much amongst TikTokkers is the fact that feta is not a one-size-fits-all cheese. Rather, there are many types of feta, from soft and spreadable to hard and crumbly, from mildly tangy to lip-smackingly sharp. "Good cheese shops and some grocery stores will offer a few types of feta, differentiated by origin, milk type, and packaging technique," Bon Appetit explained. Sheep's milk feta is the classic version of this cheese, as well as the sharpest, while fetas made with goat or cow milk will tend to be milder.

Redditor Simpledoo18, who admitted to not having made the dish at the time they posted, did make the astute observation that the particular kind of feta that you choose is "crucial" to how this recipe will turn out. They suggested that the feta flavor might be less overwhelming if a softer, milder version of the cheese were used, like the aforementioned cow's or goat's milk varieties. Alternatively, if you prefer sharper feta, you can simply use a smaller proportion than the seven ounces called for in the recipe.

That pinch of salt is a pinch too much for TikTok feta pasta

One of the first things we thought when considering TikTok feta pasta is: why add a pinch of salt? After all, feta is already very salty, and there's really no way of knowing quite how salty it will taste once it's baked. So we felt vindicated when we saw that Reddit user Elphyon posted just that. "Just made it tonight, we found it wayyyyy too salty. Had to salvage it by adding more pasta and a dash of cream, and even then it was not a particularly good dish." Elphyon further suggested that the dish might benefit from halving the feta, adding garlic, and giving it a bit of bite with paprika (we totally approve of that, by the way, especially if we're talking smoked Spanish paprika). 

We'd like to respectfully suggest that instead of salt, a little accent of a different sort might do this dish some real umami justice. The flavor accent, as you probably know, is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which has a less salty taste than the table salt you usually add to your food. And whatever dire proclamations your parents or grandparents may have made about the terrible-ness of MSG, you would do well to put all of that aside because they're not backed up by hard scientific facts, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, it may help you avoid the pitfalls of too much salt in your daily diet.

Why is the TIkTok feta pasta recipe a "pasta" recipe at all?

There's something else about the TikTok feta pasta recipe that doesn't sit right with us. It's just that it's so fundamental to the recipe, that we honestly feel kind of awkward bringing it up, but, well, here goes. When we first got wind of this recipe, despite that the thing has "pasta" in the name, we found it a bit jarring to realize it's intended as a "pasta sauce." 

As has been pointed out already, what you end up with here is not exactly a "sauce." Even if you were to dump it into the food processor (and, by the way, please don't), it would still be more of a "spread" than a classic sauce meant to complement pasta. And that, of course, begs the question: why should this non-sauce end up as pasta sauce? 

Moreover, even if you felt it was absolutely necessary to use it on top of pasta, there is still the fact that the recipe makes the one mistake you probably already know you shouldn't be making with your pasta. But the bottom line is why does a lovely, savory Greek-inspired dish featuring tomatoes and feta have to involve pasta at all? Frankly, we'd much rather use it as a dip, perhaps for toasted pita triangles.

There are far better ways to use TikTok feta as a sauce

We understand that sometimes you just want a nice plate of pasta. It has even occurred to us that perhaps that's why the TikTok feta pasta has caught on to the extent that it has, largely because it promises a big old serving of pasta. So, if you're hell-bent on making a pasta sauce out of this recipe, might we suggest using some marinara sauce in place of the cherry tomatoes? 

Yes, we know, that's not what the other kids on TikTok are doing. But you know who's doing it? Martha Stewart. And if Martha thinks that substituting marinara for the cherry tomatoes in the TikTok feta pasta is a good idea, who are we to argue? "Here, feta is baked in a pool of marinara," she wrote in a February 15 post to her Instagram that certainly seems to evoke the TikTok feta pasta craze. "Serve the tangy, creamy goodness that results with plenty of crostini — it's good to the last drop. Or, toss in your favorite pasta for an easy weeknight dinner." 

How about giving TikTok feta pasta recipe a little heat?

We were excited to see that Martha Stewart concurs with our opinion that, if you're going to go to the trouble of turning a block of feta cheese into a pasta sauce, then you might as well get it off to a good start by swapping out the cherry tomatoes for a nice marinara (via Instagram). We were even more excited to see that she leveled up still further by adding "smoky roasted piquillo peppers." 

Piquillo peppers are famous for delivering a little sweet plus a little heat (via Chili Pepper Madness). We've always loved turning them into a homemade condiment by cooking them over a medium flame for just a few minutes, then blending them along with a bit of saffron and red pepper, before adding lemon juice, salt, and topping with goat cheese (yes, feta would do nicely as well). Now we can definitely see the wisdom of adding piquillo peppers to the TikTok feta pasta recipe. Consider simply tossing them in and letting them roast with the tomatoes and cheese. We can also see how it might be nice to roast them in the oven for a few minutes before blending them into marinara, as Martha Stewart herself suggested.

Whichever route you take, the addition of a slightly spicy pepper is a brilliant one in this case, and one that we think could make a big difference.

TikTok feta pasta could really use more color

Sure, tossing some fresh basil on top of your TikTok feta pasta will add a freshness that will, no doubt, enhance the end result both visually and flavor-wise. But thinking about that has gotten us wondering what other brightly colored accents could be added to the recipe to make it less bland and less audaciously "feta." Then we remembered Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for just such a dish, which is close enough to the TikTok feta pasta recipe that it may have had a hand in inspiring it... except that it is so much more colorful than what you've been seeing on your feed. 

Smitten Kitchen's recipe implies that your cherry tomatoes don't have to all be the red ones. You can experiment with a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, some of them with delightfully odd shapes and plenty of delicious flavors. This particular recipe also involves bright hints of flavor and color in the form of pitted Kalamata olives, sliced onion, and flat-leaf parsley. Now, that sounds like a truly great idea. And while we're at it, how about a nice drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar on top of the whole thing after it's finished cooking?