Just when you thought that the unicorn food trend had gasped its final, dying breaths, Kellogg’s has announced that it will be taking over the cereal aisle in the form of Unicorn Froot Loops, which hit grocery stores throughout March. But what makes unicorn takeovers of some of our beloved simple staples so endearing? Or to put it another way, why won’t this food trend die?
And for that matter, what even is unicorn food anyway? At first glance, the cohesive thematic characteristics seem to just be a dayglo pinkish-purple hue, and a flavor profile that best reads as over-the-top sugary sweet. Unicorn bowls, unicorn cakes, and unicorn smoothies are essentially the ground floor culinary options most easily tapping into the trend.
Probably best known among this color-saturated crew is the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino Blended Créme. Here’s how the company describes its trendy 2017 beverage:
“The flavor-changing, color-changing, totally not-made-up Unicorn Frappuccino. Magical flavors start off sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour. Swirl it to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink. It's finished with whipped cream-sprinkled pink and blue fairy powders.”
Color and taste-changing – got it. The start and end points on that flavor journey aren’t actually disclosed. They’re superfluous, really. The unicorn culinary experience is better measured by smartphone megapixels and Instagram likes than by any one person’s taste buds.
Unicorn toast, cupcakes and milkshakes continue to play by these vague rules. Do they all taste like something? Of course. Can the flavor profile be broken down beyond pink, purple, and occasionally aqua blue? Not really.
The union of unicorns and breakfast cereal is therefore almost shocking in the length of time that it took to manifest. In retrospect, of course unicorn Froot Loops were coming. They’re not called Fruit Loops, after all, and Kellogg’s doesn’t market the default version by covering the box in pictures of anything that you could pluck from a tree and bite into. The description of the taste given on the box further obfuscates by claiming a bowl full of these little O’s is “magic cupcake” flavored.
What does a magic cupcake in turn taste like? I think we can guess it falls under the umbrella of sweet, pink and purple. Cartoons, bright colors and exhausted parents that just want their kids to eat something, anything, before school are the predominant levers used to push these sorts of processed foods. Unicorns are perfectly on brand.
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But why do we love these sweet treats in the first place? Like so many of our modern ilks, experts say blame social media. Aisling McKeefry, head of womenswear non-clothing design at Asos told The Guardian, “I think Instagram is the biggest contributor – like avocado in the food world, unicorns are perhaps the most ‘Instagrammable’ of all creatures.”
Even The New York Times style section has dipped its sparkly hoof into the food trend, noting that the current sugary interpretation of unicorn foods is at odds with the all-natural, nutrition-minded intention of the health and wellness blogger who is credited by some as having kickstarted the movement with beetroot-enhanced photos of cream cheese-topped toast. Vibrant & Pure’s Adeline Waugh told NYT she was just trying to “add a pop of color to my photos. I was never intending to start a trend.” Well, you know what they say about intentions.