The rainbow food trend has grown beyond the Starbucks unicorn frappuccinos to charm bagels, churros and breakfast cereals.
This isn’t exactly what health experts meant when they said we should “eat the rainbow.”
A Tokyo restaurant is going viral with a mermaid-blue ramen bowl, while Lucky Charms is adding unicorn marshmallows — the latest technicolor products joining everything from bagels and lattes to churros.
The $8.46 ramen bowl at Kipposhi reportedly derives its Hawaiian ocean blue hue from spirulina, a.k.a blue green algae, which has been a hip superfood staple in everything from ice cream to lattes.
And Lucky Charms has been giving kids (and adults) a sugar rush for decades with its marshmallows inspired by the colors of the rainbow, so it was only a matter of time before an actual unicorn graced the bowl. And the new edible unicorn charm coming next month, which features hues of bright purples and blues, is the first-ever marshmallow to be inspired and created by kids.
Plus, on March 5, Kellogg’s is finally launching its limited-edition Unicorn cereal in the U.S., which it’s been teasing since December. The bright box features a unicorn that looks straight out of a Lisa Frank coloring book boasting the “Magic Cupcake” flavor. The actual cereal appears to be a pastel version of Fruit Loops featuring round yellow, purple and red bits. The box, which will be available for a limited time beginning in March 2018, also uses some magical marketing with joking claims like “000” calories and “00” grams of sugar.
The unicorn-flavored-everything trend appears to be boosting sales. When Starbucks came out with its limited time Unicorn Frappuccino — a whimsical blend of creme, pink powder, mango syrup and swirled with sour blue drizzle — the company reported a 4% increase in same-store sales growth in the spring, according to CNBC.
And crowds of people waited in line for rainbow bagels at The Bagel Store in Brooklyn, which nearly broke the internet when it created a colorful carb-filled follow up, the unicorn bagel, filled with pink and purple cream cheese and covered in rainbow sprinkles. The food hype even spawned the social media account Unicorn Foods attracting thousands of followers devoted to colorful treats like a pink protein powder donuts, and a bright purple sweet potato latte topped with matcha sprinkles.
The “mystical” treats are created for pure spectacle rather than taste, and have an Instagram-worthy aesthetic that attracts millennials to buy them. https://twitter.com/SuzetteLT/status/853447363368767489
Other brands followed the rainbow-inspired trend. Children’s treats, like Cow Candy’s fruity new Monterey Jack cheese snacks that come in fruit punch (red), grape (purple) and orange-strawberry (orange) flavored-sticks with characters like the Transformers and My Little Pony printed on the packaging.
After all, science shows young children are drawn to bright primary colors like red, yellow and blue, and secondary colors like orange, green and purple – essentially, rainbow hues. A 2012 study even found kids prefer plates with six different colors of food on them, and infants recognize colors before they can speak. Hence the marketing genius behind Crayola-colored cereals like Froot Loops, Trix and Fruity Pebbles, not to mention Skittles (which literally invites you to “taste the rainbow”) and those McDonald’s golden arches.
But apparently tastes haven’t changed much for nostalgic adult babies missing their 80s and 90s-era Lisa Frank school supplies crawling with pink, purple and turquoise unicorns. Lisa Frankenfoods have flooded blogs and social media feeds with celestial blue galaxy doughnuts, sea green mermaid toast and indigo unicorn noodles.
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And a 2010 Berkeley study found that people asked to rank 32 colors tended to prefer brightly saturated hues, with bright reds, blues and green being the overwhelming favorites.
“These colors make [unicorn foods] look bold and exciting,” NPD Group food consumption analyst Darren Seifer explained to Moneyish. “We also in general like to see different colors. It helps us distinguish our food from dog food. It looks so much more appetizing than just a plain brown.”
He noted that even as adults are increasingly concerned about eating artificial colors, with some 37% saying they’re trying to cut back on food dyes this year, they tend to ease up on the dietary restrictions when it comes to treating themselves to a whimsical dessert. [Plus, unicorn noodles are colored with all-natural red cabbage water, so they’re guilt-free.]
Today's lunch took a strange turn! Haha I was inspired to make some unicorn noodles after seeing a little how-to by @theindigokitchen (seriously, so easy!) so, I weirded my dad out and served these up! Hahaha . I should really be packing rather than food experimenting…as I move next week! Oops 🙊🙊🙊. . Hope you're all having a magical weekend 😊💗💜🦄💕🌈✨. . #unicornfood #unicornnoodles #magic
“These days, we’re seeing more and more people looking for having an experience with their food,” Seifer said. “It’s not just about food for sustenance, but it’s also about food that excites the senses. Is it visually appealing? Does it smell fantastic? Does it bring back fond memories upon consuming it?”
Which feeds into the fact that these Manic Panic dyes look incredible on Instagram, no filter needed.
Even restaurants have hopped on the Technicolor train. The Fat Monk gastropub in Manhattan mixes a $13 hot pink “My Lisa Frank Notebook” cocktail garnished with a rainbow-haired unicorn. But don’t judge this cocktail completely by its color: the vodka and mezcal-based drink infused with serrano pepper comes with a kick.
This unicorn #cocktail at The Fat Monk is the brainchild of beverage director, Cody Goldstein of Muddling Memories….
“It’s one of our best sellers,” Fat Monk’s Jonathan Chang told Moneyish, noting that they pour 20 to 30 of them most nights. “When we present things that would get a young 4-year-olds attention, it frankly gets the same kind of attention out of a 45-year-old. People love that bright pink drink with a unicorn that harks back to your Trapper Keeper days.”
And the End cafe in Williamsburg serves a $9 unicorn latte of steamed coconut milk, cold press lemon juice and Maqui berry mixed with E3 Live, a blue green algae, which creates the enchanting blue color.
“Well, we are definitely all kids at heart so why wouldn’t we want to eat food that is colorful, bright and whimsical?” End co-founder Madeleine Murphy told Moneyish.
She added that, “with so much going on in the world, sometimes you want to look at beautiful and brightly colored food because it makes you feel happy.”
Unicorn bottoms up.
This story was originally published on April 12, 2017, and has been updated with new unicorn products.
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