Special Report

The Biggest Food Fads of the Past 50 Years

Fads and fashions have always been part of the world of food. When a certain athlete in Ancient Greece ate only meat for a year before the Olympic Games, then placed highly, a craze for meat-only diets swept across the country. Hot cross buns won Cronut-like popularity in 15th-century England (and similarly defied attempts at imitation).

Sometimes fads are launched in reaction to commercial innovation. When the Hawaiian Pineapple Company invented a way to peel, core, and slice pineapples for canning on an industrial scale in the early 1900s, pineapple upside-down cakes became a ubiquitous dessert. When Swanson introduced the TV dinner in 1953, these iconic frozen meals in segmented containers were hailed across the country as a time- and labor-saving miracle, allowing families to congregate around the television.

Click here for the biggest food fads of the past 50 years.

Some fads turn into essential parts of the culture. Consumption of a dark, hot beverage originating in eastern Africa became a virtual mania in mid-17th-century England; today it is impossible to imagine life without it. (It was coffee, of course, and here are the best coffee shops in America.)

On the other hand, a sausage-like concoction called liver loaf was a big deal in America in 1947, but you’d be hard put to find it anywhere today, and probably wouldn’t want to eat it if you did — just like these bacon-flavored foods the world doesn’t need.

In assembling this list of big food fads from the past five decades, 24/7 Tempo has considered specific dishes, whole culinary genres, and dietary trends. Not every significant fad is present; a list of every one would run into the hundreds, if not thousands.

The fads here are grouped by decade. It’s often hard to attach a fad to a specific time span, though, because most tend to start slowly, build to maximum strength, and then slowly fade — without ever really going away completely. The periods given represent the high points for each one.

All of the items listed here are still around. Some are commonplace, others encountered a bit less often, but all reflect the commercial or nutritional influences and consumer tastes of their time.