From food that’s just dye-ing to be different to snacks on acid, the latest craze of aesthetically-driven rainbow food is a head-scratcher.
Many food retailers have hopped on the rainbow bandwagon. From bagels and coffee to grilled cheese and even sushi it seems that no meal is safe from being dressed up as rainbow ‘unicorn poo’.
This raises one very important question: why?
Early last year, the world was introduced to a small bagel shop in Brooklyn, appropriately titled ‘The Bagel Store’, which intrigued the internet with a rainbow bagel. It was brightly coloured, filled with cream cheese and more photogenic than I could ever hope to be. #Baegoals, literally.
After this multicolored snack was shown to the public, all Instagram-worthy hell broke loose. People now wait in line for up to four hours at a time for these $8 rainbow bagels.
In what seemed like no time at all, the rainbow contagion had infected almost any food group you could think of. Like a zombie plague, no dish was safe.
The rainbow food trend isn’t entirely new. Mothers around the world have been using this trick to get kids to eat their mashed potatoes for years.
But now, we’re seeing a profusion of rainbow foods dyed to be ‘grammable’, from rice to ravioli. Customers’ obsession with sharing a colourful aesthetic on social media has taken centre stage.
Rainbow food is usually associated with sweetness. The best example would be Starbucks’ ‘Unicorn Frappe’: a rainbow-colored ice drink that contains no actual coffee or caffeine. So, what’s in it? Primarily, sugar.
A grande unicorn frappe with whole milk and whipped cream, for optimum Instagram potential, contains a whopping 59 grams of sugar. Or about 20 cubes. The drink will set you back a cool $9, or it would have if it didn’t sell out completely in five days.
The unicorn frappuccino hashtag on Instagram has just under 180,000 tags.
Shortly after came rainbow waffles, milkshakes and unicorn cake jars. I blame Pinterest for the endless need to put everything in a mason jar.
When people say ‘eat the rainbow’ they’re talking about fruit and vegetables. Not an artificially-dyed flat white. Speculation suggests the reason we’re all so keen to eat these food types is the good feelings we get when we see rainbow and colour.
The fear of missing out that most Millennials get when they see their social media friends demolishing what can only be described as the unicorn version of a car crash is enough to inspire any four-hour line wait.
The rainbow food phase is sure to be a quick fad. Once the hype deflates, people will most likely go back to their old ways, but before that happens I would suggest stocking up on food colouring.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 750 June / July 2017