Special Report

The Biggest Food Fads of the Past 50 Years

Source: aedeacon / Flickr

Fad: Sun-dried tomatoes
> Era: 1990s

The Italians have been drying tomatoes on tile rooftops in the sun for centuries, and commercially made sun-dried tomatoes began appearing in American gourmet stores in the 1980s — but the ’90s were their era. Specialty stores like Dean & Deluca in New York City stocked them, restaurants used them in a variety of dishes, and there was even a whole cookbook devoted to them, published in 1995. American food producers jumped on the bandwagon and began marketing their own domestic version, and sun-dried tomatoes ended up in supermarket produce sections everywhere and as flavoring for everything from crackers to ketchup.

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Fad: Bacon flavor
> Era: 2000s

Bacon has been around for thousands of years — the Chinese made an early form of it around 1500 B.C. — and has long had a place on American breakfast tables and in American sandwiches. By the beginning of the 2000s, though, bacon (or at least bacon flavor) was suddenly everywhere — in potato chips, hot sauce, coffee, olive oil, beer, vodka. There was even bacon lip balm, bacon deodorant. A cookbook called “Everything Tastes Better With Bacon” captured the Zeitgeist perfectly.

Source: Brynn / Wikimedia Commons

Fad: Cupcakes
> Era: 2000s

Cupcakes evolved in 19th-century American kitchens, popular because they baked more quickly than normal cakes. Though they were sold by bakeries (and in supermarkets, in the form of Hostess CupCakes) throughout much of the 20th century, they began achieving trendy status after Carrie, on “Sex and the City,” ate one at New York’s beloved Magnolia Bakery. Culinary historians credit a desire for feel-good comfort foods following 9/11 for increasing their popularity. The first all-cupcake bakery, Sprinkles, opened in Los Angeles in 2005 — and it was hardly surprising that, by the end of the decade, not one but two cupcake-oriented TV shows had debuted: Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and TLC’s “DC Cupcakes.”

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Fad: Greek yogurt
> Era: 2000s

Greek yogurt — yogurt that’s strained of excess liquid, becoming rich and smooth-textured — was pretty much unknown outside its home country and neighboring regions until the late 1980s and early ’90s. That’s when the Fage brand started appearing in American markets. After Fage established an American subsidiary in 2004, and a U.S. company launched by a Turkish immigrant, Chobani, bought a large-scale yogurt factory in 2007, it became an indispensable part of the American breakfast and lunch scene. Between 2006 and 2011, Greek yogurt sales in the U.S. increased from $60 million in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2011.

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Fad: Pumpkin spice
> Era: 2000s

The aromatics that flavor pumpkin pie — known generically as pumpkin spice — include cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sometimes cloves. The craze for flavoring things other than pie with these ingredients was ignited by Starbucks, back in 2003. After a period of test-marketing, the chain rolled out their first Pumpkin Spice Latte in the fall of 2004. Other coffee and fast food chains, including 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons, followed suit, and suddenly the flavoring was showing up in everything from bagels to pasta to martinis.

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