Special Report

The Biggest Food Fads of the Past 50 Years

Source: Keith McDuffee from Northborough, MA, USA / Wikimedia Commons

Fad: Pasta salad
> Era: 1980s

Macaroni salad, dressed with cream or mayonnaise, has been around since the early 20th century, and recipes for “pasta salad” began appearing in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the ’80s, though, that American cooks started tossing pasta of various kinds with all kinds of bright vegetables and other ingredients (the idea was virtually unknown in Italy), and suddenly there wasn’t a deli or lunch counter without pasta salad.

Source: EzumeImages / Getty Images

Fad: Penne alla vodka
> Era: 1980s

This phenomenally popular pasta preparation may have been invented at a restaurant in Bologna, Italy, or possibly one in New York City. It is simply a dish of short quill-shaped noodles draped in a creamy tomato sauce diluted with vodka. Since vodka is legally defined as neutral spirits “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color,” exactly what it adds to the dish isn’t obvious. That didn’t stop it from finding a place on Italian menus all over America.

Source: MSPhotographic / Getty Images

Fad: Ranch dressing
> Era: 1980s

America’s most popular salad dressing was invented at the Hidden Valley dude ranch near Santa Barbara, California, in the 1950s. It was originally sold as a dry packaged mix to be rehydrated with buttermilk. The Clorox corporation bought the brand in 1973, continuing to sell a reformulated version of the mix — but after they began marketing a shelf-stable bottled version in 1983, ranch dressing became a star. Soon it was being used as a dip and condiment as well as a salad dressing, and it evolved into a flavoring for everything from potato chips and crackers to dental floss and soft drinks.

Source: armano777 / Getty Images

Fad: Low-carb diets
> Era: 1990s

First developed in 1797 to treat diabetics, the low-carb diet is still going strong today — often in an extreme form called the keto diet. It entered the American mainstream with the publication in 1992 of a book by cardiologist Robert Atkins, “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.” Other doctors developed low-carb programs of their own (like Dr. Arthur Agatston’s South Beach diet), and low-carb food products soon flooded the marketplace.

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Fad: Smoothies
> Era: 1990s

The first smoothies date from the 1920s, but they didn’t achieve widespread popularity until after 1989 — the year the first Smoothie King juice bar opened in New Orleans. The Jamba Juice chain launched in 1990 in San Luis Obispo, California, originally under the name Juice Club. Other chains dating from the ’90s include Tropical Smoothie Café, Planet Smoothie, and Robeks. What was once considered a source of nutrition for bodybuilders and health-food nuts became a commonplace American beverage.

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