When the first issue of Mental Floss magazine debuted in 2001, Rachel Ray was getting her start on the Food Network, the Atkins Diet was gaining popularity, and no one had ever heard of a Cronut. A lot has changed in the past 20 years, including the foods we like to eat (and post on social media). From rainbow baked goods to unholy fast food hybrids, here are some of the more memorable novelty food items from the past two decades.
1. Soufflé Pancakes
Soufflé pancakes have been popular in Japan since 2014, but they didn't take off in America until the late 2010s. In 2019, the Japanese soufflé pancake chain Flipper's opened its first location in the U.S. Unlike conventional pancakes, this spin on the breakfast food is tall and fluffy. Whipped egg whites help the treat achieve its impressive height and light, airy texture.
2. Beanboozled Jelly Beans
Thanks to Harry Potter’s Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavored Beans, weird jelly bean flavors were all the rage in the 2000s. In 2007, the Jelly Belly Candy Company turned gross-out candy into a diabolical game with its first Beanboozled line. Every box mixes nasty jelly beans with Jelly Belly’s classic flavors. Some of the more stomach-turning varieties produced for the brand include booger, dead fish, and dog food.
3. Maple Bacon Doughnuts
By the 2000s, diet trends had shifted from low-fat to high-protein, and Americans took that as an excuse to eat bacon in every form imaginable. One memorable product born out of the country’s cured pork obsession was the maple bacon doughnut. Voodoo Donuts in Portland, Oregon, helped catapult this sweet-and-salty treat to national fame when they debuted it in 2003. It has remained a staple of their menu even as bacon mania has quieted down.
4. Matcha Kit Kat
Kit Kat first debuted in England in 1935, but the 2000s were when Japan fell in love with the flavored versions of the treat. Matcha Kit Kats first appeared in the country in 2004, and they were a massive success. By mixing matcha powder with chocolate, Nestlé was able to create a Kit Kat that tasted like no other. Today, the green tea-flavored Kit Kat is the second-most popular variety in Japan behind classic milk chocolate.
5. Cake Pops
Angie Dudley, the blogger behind the website Bakerella, is credited with kicking off the cake pop trend in 2008. It didn’t take long for the bite-sized baked goods on a stick to become popular at weddings and even Starbucks.
Sushirito wasn’t the only fast-casual burrito chain people were visiting in the 2010s, but it may have been the most unique. First launched in San Francisco in 2011, the restaurant took classic sushi ingredients like rice, nori, and raw fish, and rolled them into a large, portable package. The business inspired other sushi mashups, like the sushi burger.
7. Doritos Locos Tacos
Taco Bell consistently pushes the limits of what can be made with meat, tortillas, and cheese. Their most iconic experiment—the Doritos Locos Taco—appeared on menus in 2012. The idea to transform cheesy Doritos tortilla chips into taco shells was simple but effective. At the item’s peak, Taco Bell sold approximately 1 million Doritos Locos Tacos a day.
Debuting in 2013, the Cronut arguably kicked off an obsession with so-called viral food. The croissant-donut hybrid had people waiting in line for hours outside Dominique Ansel in New York City at the height of its popularity. The bakery still sells the treat today, and you don’t have to set aside your whole morning to get one.
9. Ramen Burgers
There are numerous variations on ramen, but few are as creative as the ramen burger. Instead of adding the noodles to broth to make soup, Japanese-American chef Keizo Shimamoto had the idea to shape them into burger buns. His playful update on a fast food staple was an instant sensation when he unveiled it at the Smorgasburg food market in Brooklyn, New York, in 2013.
10. KFC Double Down
Before ramen started appearing on burgers, KFC had the bright idea to replace sandwich bread with deep-fried meat. The Double Down—which sandwiches bacon and cheese between two pieces of fried chicken—made its national debut in 2010. Despite the far-out concept, the item was a mainstream hit. The fast food chain has called it “arguably the most talked-about product in KFC history.”
11. Rainbow Bagels
The food that best encapsulates dining in the age of Instagram may be the rainbow bagel. The Bagel Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, started selling the technicolor baked good in 2015, and soon people were traveling from across the country to get one. Demand was so overwhelming that the store’s original location had to close temporarily in 2016. In 2019, The Bagel Store was seized by the government over unpaid taxes.
12. 24k Pizza
In 2016, Industry Kitchen in New York City began selling a $2000 pizza topped with white Stilton cheese, foie gras, Osetra caviar, truffles, and gold leaves. Part of a larger trend of ostentatious, gilded foodstuff, the item was the most expensive pizza commercially available for a period of time. Gimmicky dishes designed to cost as much as possible may be relatively new, but people have been adding gold to food for centuries.
13. Over-the-Top Milkshakes
Restaurants began adding every sweet thing they could find to milkshakes in the mid-2010s. Though the over-the-top milkshake trend likely first appeared in Australia in 2015, New York City’s Black Tap burger joint popularized it a year later. Milkshakes on their menu come with such extreme toppings as cookies, lollipops, caramel apples, and whole cake slices. Though they aren’t always easy to consume, the shakes do photograph well.
14. Unicorn Frappuccinos
Unicorn-everything was hot in 2017, and it was just a matter of time before a massive chain joined the trend. That year, Starbucks released its Unicorn Frappuccino, which featured mango syrup, sour blue drizzle, and a sparkly pink-and-blue dust topping. The item was a viral hit, much to the annoyance of the baristas responsible for making the fantastical drink a reality.
15. Charcoal Ice Cream
For foodies who couldn't stomach brightly colored unicorn food, there was the charcoal craze. The trend can be traced back to Morgenstern's Finest Ice Cream in New York City, which began selling pitch-black ice cream made with activated charcoal in 2015. Though it may be eye-catching, food containing charcoal actually makes it harder for your body to absorb nutrients and medication, and could therefore be detrimental to your health. Charcoal has long been banned from food and drinks in New York, but the city didn’t start strictly enforcing the law until 2018.
16. Cookie Shots
One year after unleashing the Cronut onto the culinary scene, Dominique Ansel debuted the Cookie Shot. Instead of mashing together two beloved baked goods, this creation combines a chocolate chip cookie and a drinking vessel. The edible cookie "shot glass" comes filled with Madagascan vanilla milk—allowing you to enjoy your milk and cookies on-the-go.
17. Raindrop Cake
Mizu shingen mochi, or “water droplet cake,” is another novelty food made popular by Japan in the last 20 years. A product of the mid-2010s, the dessert consists of water, sugar, and a gelatin-like seaweed derivative called agar shaped into a giant, clear dewdrop. It’s usually served with toppings like sugar syrup and toasted soybean flour.
18. Flamin' Hot Mac N' Cheetos
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos have been around since the early 1990s, but they reached their cultural peak a couple of decades later. In 2017, Burger King collaborated with Cheetos to develop Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos. The monstrosity consisted of macaroni and cheese molded into sticks and coated in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust. Burger King also sold regular Mac n' Cheetos that same year, but they didn’t set the fast food scene ablaze quite like the spicy version.
19. Edible Cookie Dough
People didn’t start eating unbaked cookie dough in the late 2010s, but they did find a way to enjoy it more responsibly. This era saw a wave of cookie dough cafés offering safe-to-eat versions of the treat in bowls and cones. Nestlé Toll House even launched its own line of edible cookie dough without raw eggs in 2019.
20. Pancake Cereal
While many food trends from the previous decade were shaped by Instagram, 2020 ushered in the TikTok era. One viral trend on the app last year had people making tiny, cereal-sized pancakes they could eat by the spoonful. Waffle cereal naturally followed.