The Worst Food Trends We Ever Saw On TikTok

Since debuting as Musical.ly in 2014, TikTok has managed to amass more than 700 million monthly active users worldwide — and it's safe to say that it's shed the stigma of being an app mostly populated by bored people doing viral dance challenges. And during 2020 and some of 2021, otherwise stagnant-feeling (and kind of terrifying) years, food TikTok gave millions a sense of joy and comfort. The app even convinced Gordon Ramsey to reprise his Hell's Kitchen role just to roast terrible at-home chefs.

Among those cooks are likely the creators of some of TikTok's most enduring viral trends of 2020. It all seemingly started during lockdown, when the nation searched for creature comforts like Dalgona coffee (a delicious, whipped instant coffee that felt like the decadence we truly deserved at a time when entering your local Starbucks felt like a risk). Then, the population shifted to using up all their rotting bananas in banana bread — but from there, it spiraled untethered.

But the worst viral trends we ever saw on TikTok weren't innovations born out of necessity. They were so-called hacks that solved problems that didn't actually exist; deceptively simple recipes that were never quite right; and problematic pairings that made us question our sanity and our taste buds. Is anyone out there actually eating this stuff?

When everything is cake and nothing makes sense, thanks to TikTok

Oh, the summer of 2020 — the mind-bending season when the world emerged from a frigid winter spent locked indoors only to discover that everything had become cake. Everything. Those Crocs? Cake. That carton of eggs? Cake. That banana? That dude's hand? Cake. All of it. The "is it cake?" meme spread so fervently, breaking the dam of Twitter and TikTok and spilling into every corner of the internet, that in our darkest days, we couldn't help but wonder: If that's cake, and that's cake, am I cake?

Refinery 29 labeled the meme, which first emerged on Twitter with a Buzzfeed compilation, a sign of the times. They explained, "None of us have ever lived through a year like 2020, when everything feels both totally f**ked and surprisingly possible all at once — kind of like what it feels like to see a plastic shoe cut open and revealed to be a chocolate cake." And while that sentiment may resonate (as would comfort-eating my left foot if it truly were made of red velvet), that doesn't make it any less unsettling — and there's some psychology behind it.

As NYU psychology professor Pascal Wallisch explained to Insider, the perceived non-cake objects "have very specific connotations" for humans. When that reality is shattered by revealing that the item is also a cake, there are "these clashing categories that are both active in your mind." The world already doesn't make sense; let's just leave it at that.

It's impossible to unsee that horrific Cheetos mac 'n cheese TikTok

Most of us know Flamin' Hot Cheetos by two things: their distinctive color (which is so artificially vibrant, it's almost glowing) and the fact that once you open the bag, you're probably going to eat the whole thing even though it has the potential to make your stomach bleed (lest we forget Lil' Xan's saga). The snack has reached cult status, eliciting pop-up restaurants across the country and a clothing collaboration with fast-fashion brand Forever 21. Then, TikTok had to ruin it.

While Cheetos-based recipes aren't inherently bad (and dare we say actually good in the case of the other viral TikTok recipe, Flamin' Hot mozzarella sticks), the Mac 'N Hot Cheetos that racked up millions of views in February 2021 took things way too far. The issue was the method: The red dust has a certain allure when clinging to your fingertips like a cheese-based adhesive that stains everything it touches, but that's completely lost when it's bubbling over like a toxic neon sludge. Watching the puffs dissolve into water as if they were a heartburn-inducing Alka-Seltzer was so unsettling that it puts us off the snack entirely.

In short: nothing about this looked edible. It was so unholy that one commenter, @murphology563, had to ask: "Who are these sick people?" It was even worse when you considered the fact that there's already perfectly edible boxed Cheetos Mac 'N Cheese that doesn't require whatever the heck was going on here.

Toaster grilled cheese was a little too lit, even for TikTok

In theory, toaster grilled cheese — whether you use bread or a wrap — is ingenious. Any opportunity to avoid washing another pan, right? That's the thought behind this viral so-called food hack. Though the wrap version that was posted by @Viking_Davidson in April 2020 racked up more than 390,000 likes, the idea had been floating around for a while with iterations in outlets like Reader's Digest and HuffPost. Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gave it a go, sparking our culinary inspiration and also sparking literal flames. As it turned out, toaster grilled cheese was a straight-up hazard.

For years, toaster grilled cheese has been an internet trend lethally akin to the Tide Pod Challenge or taking Instagram photos from really, really high places. In 2015, CNN ran a story detailing a woman's terrifying experience as her toaster burst into flames, and it's apparently common enough that the London Fire Brigade issued a public warning. It's especially dangerous if you turn your toaster on its side to avoid dripping cheese on the impossible-to-clean bottom.

"Toasters are not designed to be put on their side and used to grill cheese on toast," London Fire Bregade's crew manager Nick Morley told the BBC. "Not only does it generate heat onto the work surface ... but the dry leftover crumbs from the bottom of the toaster can get onto the hot elements and ignite." It has never been more evident that panini presses exist for a reason.

Enough with the baked feta pasta, TikTok!

In April, we had what will (probably) be referred to in the history books as the great yeastless spring of 2020, where so many people were stuck inside making sourdough bread that it single-handedly led to a nationwide yeast shortage. Sourdough walked (or rather rose) so TikTok pasta could run. Cue: the Feta-less February of 2021.

According to Refinery29, the TikTok pasta (known also as baked feta pasta, though like Cher, it requires no other name) became such a phenomenon that it led to a mass — and in some regards, global — shortage of feta cheese. Though Finnish grocery stores saw their cheese sections gutted in 2019 when the recipe was first posted by food blogger Jenni Häyrinen, it didn't go global until resurfacing on TikTok in 2021, racking up more than 600 million views, according to The Wall Street Journal. By now, just about everyone on the internet has contemplated making the TikTok pasta, but few have achieved the desired results.

The problem with the pasta is that it's pitched as a gourmet alternative to a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, but it hinges on using specific, high-quality ingredients at exactly the right proportions (which, coincidentally, aren't specified). As The WSJ notes, it has a tendency to dissolve into an admittedly delicious puddle, but a puddle nonetheless. By March of 2021, we reached a culinary culture point where this once-novel dish became a meme. In other words: It's time to let it go.

Nacho tables were a potential super-spreading event, thanks to this TikTok craze

There is, perhaps, nothing more terrifying during a global pandemic than sharing a communal table full of nachos at a house party with an undetermined number of guests — but one TikTok user, @stefherder, threw plates, flatware, and caution to the wind. As a result, the recipe she posted in June 2020 went viral, garnering more than 3 million views.

A nacho table is exactly what it sounds like: A table is lined with tin-foil to minimize the mess, then layered with beef, cheese, and all the regular nacho fixins — much to the horror of the general public, who had been having difficulty finding Clorox wipes in a grocery store since 2019. "Please, for the love of queso, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before diving in," urged TODAY, who likened the trend to a crawfish boil with none of the actual boiling water that would sanitize what you're eating. "The amount of unsanitary child hands would cause me to leave the entire house," wrote another user (via Yahoo!). 

Despite the obvious unease, not all commentary was criticism. Buzzfeed hailed the nacho table a "moment in culinary history," though, after what we've all learned about viruses since 2020, communal nachos are probably one of those historic moments we want to remember so as not to repeat. 

Pancake cereal from TikTok is an exercise in patience that we don't have

Being bored in the house and in the house bored during the first half of 2020 spawned some culinary innovations — particularly in the realm of cereal, a breakfast option often glimmering with notes of childhood comfort. There we sat, many of us having returned to our childhood homes to quarantine away from overcrowded cities, faced with an unfamiliar solitude.

At its heart, pancake cereal was a true testament to this feeling — and exercise in patience and isolation, as each tiny drop has to be individually flipped on the pan until uniformly golden brown. It's an indulgent treat loaded with the nostalgia of the sugary cereals of our youth, and just as little nutritional value. It seems like a slam-dunk, but one that only works in theory.

While there's nothing specifically wrong with pancake cereal, there's not a lot right about it either — mainly the fact that it's not actually cereal. It's lacking the namesake crunch of its predecessor French Toast Crunch, which (as noted by Real Simple) causes the mini pancakes to dissolve into soggy mush the moment they hit milk. If that's your thing, by all means, get out the piping bag. You can always skip the milk, but if all else fails, pancake cereal makes for a really cute Instagram post.

Mini donut cereal, the cereal saga's sequel, was an even worse TikTok food trend

TikTok didn't stop at pancake cereal. Rather, pancake cereal opened the floodgates for more breakfast food adaptations, each more unnecessary than the last. Enter: mini donut cereal, an aesthetically pleasing take on a classic breakfast that served as an instant injection of whimsy amidst a boring and frankly terrifying year. That is, perhaps, the only conceivable reason that donut cereal ever gained any traction.

Before going viral on TikTok, donut cereal was actually already a thing. Kellogg introduced two flavors of Donut Shop cereals — pink donut and chocolate donut — in 2017, but TikTok's viral trend took the oft-overlooked classic and made it significantly worse, if only for the extraordinary effort it takes to make a single bowl.

To make TikTok's donut cereal, you have to first make a bunch of mini donuts. Depending on your donut recipe, it may or may not require a Herculean effort to find some fresh yeast, wait for said yeast to rise in the dough, and to bust out your at-home deep fryer skills. Then, you'll have to ice the donuts, wait for the icing to solidify, and put the doughnuts in a bowl with milk, where they will inevitably become a soggy mess in 60 seconds flat.

While anyone can make doughnut cereal, did anyone ever stop to think whether or not you actually should?

The TikTok "nature's cereal" trend is just a deconstructed smoothie

It's not hard to get so caught up in the viral cycle of TikTok that eventually, things get so convoluted you don't stop to think: Where am I? This is the only reasonable explanation for "nature's cereal," a viral breakfast trend that racked up nearly half a billion views under its associated hashtag by March of 2021. Even Lizzo admitted she was "addicted" to the treat, which was praised for its healthy benefits, like staving off constipation or providing a massive dose of antioxidants, according to Shape.

Nature's cereal, which Fox News reported was originally created by TikTok user @natures_food in mid-February 2021, is the perfect example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Though it's simple and healthy (it's just pomegranate seeds, blueberries, and strawberries in a bowl filled with coconut water and ice), it already has a name. We liked it back in the '80s when it was called fruit salad (albeit this is a very wet fruit salad).

In essence, nature's cereal is little more than a lazy person's smoothie without the full range of nutritional benefits. It's lacking the protein and healthy fats that would keep your stomach from feeling like it's dissolving itself 30 minutes later, and you'd be better off blending it with some protein powder or nut butter, which, in effect, would make it not "cereal" at all. Nature's cereal may be good for you, but let's not pretend it's anything other than what it is.

Cotton candy pickles ... really, TikTok?

Sometimes something is so, so wrong that it might actually be right — like dipping your Wendy's french fries in a chocolate Frosty. The jury, however, is still out on cotton candy pickles, a polarizing viral TikTok trend that was so perplexing it got us wondering if the pickle was also cake.

To Mississippians, the idea probably wasn't that strange. The Magnolia State is, after all, the purveyor of the Koolickle, a cult favorite where a pickle is soaked in Kool-Aid to pick up the sweet flavor and the bright red hue. YouTubers have also tried Mountain Dew-infused pickles, which have a similar effect. In fact, weird pickle pairings seem to always be popping up online as seemingly disgusting food combinations that people actually love. So, are cotton candy pickles any good?

You're either a pickle person or you're not. To some, the cotton candy pickle, which garnered more than 6.6 million views on TikTok by spring of 2021, is a cursed burrito deserving of no home other than the trash. To others, like @Tanisha.Victoria, it "actually isn't that bad," but that doesn't mean it's good either.

At least warm up the sweet potato before trying this viral TikTok lunch

There's nothing wrong with a baked sweet potato, but sometimes people take things too far. Cue: Hailey Peters, a hairdresser-slash-health food blogger whose lunch of mustard, a handful of raw veggies, and a cold sweet potato went viral on TikTok. Never mind the fact that she filmed herself munching on raw asparagus, which is incredibly hard to chew. Her cold — as in refrigeration-level cold — baked sweet potato recipe racked up millions of views, forcing her to defend her controversial lunch in a video captioned "don't judge me." 

While some viewers thought the influencer made raw veggies look uniquely appetizing, it made most a little queasy. "She really ate the end of that sweet potato sprouts and all," wrote one commenter, adding a vomiting emoji for effect. "This is the saddest lunch I've ever seen," wrote another, but the origin of the criticism of Peters' now-viral lunch stemmed a lot deeper than the sheer horror of consuming near-frozen sweet potato. 

It seems the "healthy" meal may have actually glorified unhealthy eating habits. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dieters should consume about 50% of their daily calories at lunch. Per Women's Health, this translates to roughly 750 calories, and that's the bare minimum for someone on a 1,500-calorie per day diet. A soggy, cold sweet potato and some broccoli just doesn't cut it — and the least you can do is pop that tater in the microwave.

The viral one pan egg sandwich hack on TikTok solved a problem that didn't exist

According to Parade, TikTok's one pan egg sandwich hack was so popular that it racked up more than a million views in just 24 hours. While there's nothing actually wrong with the recipe (and most people who've tried it out on the platform actually report that it's pretty good) it does follow an eye-rolling trend.

Like most of the worst viral TikTok trends, the so-called "hack" isn't a hack at all. It's solving a problem that doesn't exist. "One pan also equals fewer dishes to clean up later," wrote Parade, blatantly ignoring the fact that breakfast sandwiches are already one-pan. Everyone who's ever cooked eggs in bacon fat knows this, but if not, TikToker @aldentediva demonstrated the art in a viral video of her own. All you need is a big enough skillet and a lid to help you melt the cheese.

In short: if you want to try the viral egg sandwich, by all means, go for it. It does add a slight French toast flair to an otherwise standard sandwich. It's just not reinventing the wheel.

TikTok's cilantro hack was more trouble than it was worth

The only thing worse than a food hack that solves a nonexistent problem, is a food hack that makes a very real problem a whole lot worse. When @jeenie.weenie tested out the viral herb-chopping hack with cilantro in June 2020, it looked like an actual decent solution. All you had to do was thread your herb through a cheese grater and pull, destemming the leaves in the process. In reality, it's not anywhere near as graceful as it looks on camera.

When BuzzFeed tried out the so-called "cilantro hack" that same month, they ended up with an uneven mess of leaves still attached to stems. As they noted, it took "about a minute" to thread the stems through the cheese grater and they still had to chop the stems with a knife. Over all, giving your cilantro a quick chop is a lot quicker. Plus, you're not stuck cleaning out the stubborn holes of your box grater, which is unequivocally the worst part of box graters in the first place. All in all, TikTok's cilantro hack is way more mess than it's worth.