It was the shrimp fried rice that first put Kaylee Castleberry on my radar. By the standards of every fried rice I’ve ever encountered, it looked suspicious, like the grains were still too crunchy and those couldn’t be real shrimp (maybe Vrimp!?). But as Castleberry began moving it into a ceramic warmer, I realized her shrimp fried rice was better than I’d thought — after all, it was made of wax.
A self-taught wax artist, Castleberry posts videos as @cravings4candles. With over 200,000 followers on TikTok, Castleberry is known for her hyper-realistic designs, which deceive viewers as much as all those uncanny cakes did back in 2020. Her renditions of picadillo with rice, Hamburger Helper with bread, a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, and elote have gained views in the millions. She also has an Etsy store, where she sells that same meltable fried rice and corn-scented wax tamales.
When Castleberry started posting on TikTok, it wasn’t necessarily her intention to trick viewers; her earlier work looks more clearly like candles. But after a video of her “corn in a cup” blew up this May (it has 4.7 million views and comments like “omg I was going to ask for the recipe until I realized it was a wax melt”), Castleberry felt inspired to make her work so realistic it could trick people. Eater talked with Castleberry about the challenges of making wax look appetizing — and what her next fake-out might be.
Eater: I’ve never worked with wax. Can you tell me about your materials, and how you’re able to manipulate them into such different shapes and textures?
Kaylee Castleberry: One wax is usually not going to give me the consistency that I’m going for, because [waxes] are designed for either wax melts or for poured candles. I have to make several different waxes and experiment with different ratios. I use a lot of gel wax in my soy wax, for example, so it creates a softer wax. If you use strictly gel wax, it’s more transparent. You have to mix [the two] to make it opaque, but also to give [the wax] stretchiness and more texture than regular soy wax alone.
Wax melts are way safer than flamed candles, but I enjoy making wax melts also because I feel like I have more freedom with it. If I’m doing a platter of different foods, I don’t have to make it three or four inches high [to allow for a wick].
How long do these pieces usually take you?
If it’s a new idea, I have to experiment to get the texture right. It does take me quite a bit of time — sometimes half the day or the whole day. After I’ve done the experimenting, it will only take me like an hour or two max.
Is there a particular type of food texture that’s the easiest to replicate? And is there one that’s the hardest?
The bread is very difficult. Just making a mold for the bread was very difficult: I didn’t realize it was going to be extremely hard to scrub the breadcrumbs out from the actual [silicone] mold. I got the bread mold made and I was just doing the soy wax in it, but then I thought I could probably add some gel and make it more squishy. The first time I made the bread, it was way too stretchy. Recently, I modified the ratios and I got it to be more like bread. It’s not completely bread, but it’s getting better.
The easiest for sure is anything hard, like rice, because soy wax is naturally hard. I’ve been making the shrimp fried rice, and I’ve also improved the texture on the rice recently.
Will be available on my Etsy tomorrow 8/29! #MessFreeHero #GenshinTeleport #PartyWithVMAs #cravingsforcandles #waxfood #waxmeltsoftiktok #diywaxmelts #diywax #waxtok #realisticwaxmelts #uniquewaxmelts #pbn #pbbn #pbj #waxmelts♬ Paradise - Ikson
The rice is really impressive. How do you do that?
I got a noodle maker off of Amazon. When I first started making the rice, I was rolling the rice by hand and it was taking so long, like hours and I’d barely get a cup out of it. I was like, What if I just crush up the noodles that I was making for the ramen? It worked out. When you look closely it looks like a crushed noodle — but if you don’t know it’s wax, it really does look realistic.
You mentioned that you’ve tried the bread so many times. How are you deciding what’s worth continuing to experiment with?
Even if I’ve already done something, I want to do it better and better again the next time. There’s always people that are like, I knew it was wax. I’m just like, I’m gonna get you next time. I look at it after it’s done and I think, I could’ve done this instead, so I try to do that until eventually it gets to where it’s almost perfect.
Why do you think people are so drawn to this wax food content?
I think it’s just because it’s different. There’s always been dessert candles, but I think as far as [savory] food-themed candles, it’s something that tricks people. I think that’s maybe what it is: People are shocked at the end of the video because sometimes they’re expecting it to be actual real food and they’re waiting on the recipe or something like that, and then they see it’s wax, so they share it or tag someone in it.
Replying to @glute.snuggie unfortunately it’s wax. I would have ate it quicker than I could record if it wasn’t and TY ❤️ #foodwax #scoopablewax #scoopablewaxmelts #picadillo #realisticwaxmelts #fakefood #waxmelts #uniquewaxmelts #foodwaxmelts #foodcandle #waxtok #realorfake #wax♬ DARKSIDE - Neoni
Is there a wax melt that you’ve made that stands out to you as the most impressive or your favorite one that you’ve done?
Probably the chicken tamale one that I just posted, where I break it open and it’s like that soft masa on the outside. I feel like that has been the most impressive because it’s realistic as far as the appearance but also the texture and the smell. It’s all-around realistic in every way.
Do they always smell like the food that they’re shaped like?
Most of the desserts that I sell, yes, because those are fragrances that everybody likes. I want the scent to be enjoyable, so if I can relate it to the food, I will. The Hamburger Helper I did in tomato basil; it relates because it’s tomatoey, but at the same time, it doesn’t smell exactly like Hamburger Helper.
And is there any food that you really want to try making that you haven’t made yet?
I’ve been really wanting to make enchiladas, but realistic: I can have it on the plate and cut it and have the cheese pull. I’m still brainstorming how I can accomplish it. I’ve made flour tortillas look realistic, but my next goal is to make the corn tortillas. Once I get the corn tortillas done, I’m pretty sure I can make enchiladas.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.