Instagram is now awash with wildly colorful photos of foodstuffs bearing classifications like “mermaid,” “galaxy,” and “unicorn.” Like all great viral foods, they’re meant to be consumed with your eyes, not your mouth. But that doesn’t stop ‘grammers and food bloggers from feverishly sharing them and trying to create new dishes inspired by mythical creatures and the heavens above. Here’s a guide to the different styles of polychromatic edibles that we’re hereby calling Lisa Frankenfoods, as an homage to the school supply designer whose work could be found in every middle school classroom in America throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
But Before We Begin...
It’s impossible to asses the candy-colored world of Lisa Frankenfoods without first acknowledging the influence of Amanda Chantal Bacon, the health guru/entrepreneur behind Moon Juice in Los Angeles. At this ultra-trendy food shop (and its online store), Bacon peddles health powders, tinctures, and snacks with far-out names like Dream Dust, Rainbow Juice & Seed Chips, and Deep Sex Shakes. They’re colorful, they’re collectable, they’ve got catchy names, and if you believe the marketing, they’re aggressively good for you. Is it any coincidence that the Lisa Frankenfoods trend kicked into high gear around the time that Bacon published the Moon Juice cookbook, and her sacred geode mysteriously vanished? Not likely. Moon Juice mania paved the way for Lisa Frankenfoods fever.
The first Lisa Frankenfood — and the most Basic of the bunch — is the rainbow bagel, which became a viral trend in late 2015, after Gothamist posted a video of how the Bagel Shop in Brooklyn made this specialty. A few months and a million Instagrams later, the store had to close and make repairs to keep up with all the demand, and restaurants and bakeries around the globe started adding food coloring to things like grilled cheese sandwiches, lattes, and pizzas to achieve that rainbow effect. This is also around the time that Black Tap’s frosting-covered milkshakes, which also had rainbow color schemes, became wildly popular. While pondering the appeal of these rainbow foods, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University told Gizmodo: “More often than not, we taste what we see.” This was just the beginning of a trend that would grow into something much bigger over the next year.
Galaxy foods don’t really look like the galaxy as it has been captured by NASA’s long-range telescope-cameras. But these treats actually do look like the galaxy as it’s been depicted in various iterations of the Apple IOS — a dreamy swirl of blue, purple, and silver streaks. Crafty chefs and bakers incorporated this design into cakes, doughnuts, and cookies. But unlike the rainbow food trend, which was largely propelled by restaurants and bakeries, the galaxy craze grew from the work of food artists, DIY bloggers, Pinners, and Instagrammers. These foods were more accurately concept desserts — things you could theoretically make, but they might not be fit for public consumption. In this way, they owe as much to rainbow foods as they do to Pinterest holy grails like surprise-inside cakes and pinata cookies.
Like an ancient, weary sailor aboard a ship gliding perilously close to a rocky shore, the internet cannot resist the siren song of this new culinary genre. The mermaid food trend was born a few weeks ago when food stylist Adeline Waugh shared a photo of the pretty dish above, which is made with a mixture of blue-green algae powders and almond milk cream cheese. This dish marks a slight departure from its forebears in the sense that, like the Moon Juice products, it is both exceedingly healthy and very pretty.
And now we’ve reached the unicorn phase. This relatively new subspecies also places an emphasis on nutritional virtue as well as visual razzle-dazzle. Pop Sugar offers a recipe for these unicorn noodles, which are inspired by the work of the blogger behind Indigo Kitchen, and like mermaid toast, this healthy dish requires no artificial food coloring. The creator of the Ariel-inspired bread also dabbles in unicorn foodstuffs from time to time, and a new Brooklyn cafe is now serving a unicorn latte made with raw cashews, ginger, and Blue Majik spirulina extract.
The Dank Future?
It’s unclear how long the Lisa Frankenfoods trend will last, but the recent permutations suggest that it will keep chugging along until all of the creatures in the mythical menagerie are given namesake dishes. But in case you’re looking for an alternative to these cutesy creations, please note that Kat Kinsman recently published an explainer on how to make all-natural troll toast over on Extra Crispy. The recipe includes a promise: “It just might relieve yourself of the pressure of making an Instagram-blissful meal — and also gas.”
• Unicorn Noodles Are About to Flood Your Instagram [PS]
• Troll Toast Slays Unicorn Toast [EC]
• A Healing Unicorn Latte, From Brooklyn of Course [NYT]
• Rainbow Bagels and Crazy Milkshakes: What Happens When a Dish Goes Viral [E]