If you’ve ever felt an urgent need to make confit potatoes or fold a tortilla wrap in a clockwise direction, then you have been influenced. It can creep in from anywhere, an overheard conversation on the bus about three-ingredient brownies (I was responsible for this one), or a quick chat at the start of a Zoom call about that feta pasta for dinner.
Coronavirus wasn’t the only thing spreading virally in 2020. There were the dalgona coffee and banana bread recipes, then frozen honey. Many viral food trends originate from TikTok and Instagram. TikTok, once known mainly for lip-syncing videos and trending dance routines, really evolved during lockdowns.
We were mostly at home, twiddling our thumbs and thinking about our next meal. We had more time to cook creatively and experiment in the kitchen, trying to recreate our favourite restaurant dishes. Brunch recipes took off too and the perfect hollandaise for those poached eggs became a frequent online search topic. Research commissioned by Samsung showed that 71 per cent of 2,000 adults turned to social media instead of traditional cookbooks.
The winning formula on social media seems to be starting with an easy recipe, using accessible, widely available ingredients and a simple assembly. The goal is for you to want to make it when you see how easy and delicious it is, or else to entertain you, so you hit that like button, or even better, save it.
Despite me writing a recipe for feta bake in a national newspaper back in 2013, it took a 30-second video to make a version of it a viral hit last year. The TikTok platform made it easy to share and spread, creating a worldwide spike in feta cheese sales. Being shown how easy this delicious dish is to make has been key to its popularity, as well as the visual element of those bursting tomatoes and yielding soft cheese making it look so appetising.
There are a few different styles of food video doing well on social media. Slick shots that get up close and personal with the ingredients are always a winner. Matrix-style slow-motion spins around the sugary topping of a cruffin, now that’s worth watching a few times. You can almost taste the maple syrup as it slowly pours over warm pancakes or smell the crusty sourdough bread as it is being sliced, the camera right at the edge of the chopping board for maximum impact.
While it might seem easy, creating quality food content is hard work
Our sight is not the only sense being treated here as some shun the use of trending songs in favour of the natural sounds of food being prepared. With ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) food videos, we hear the onion’s papery skin being peeled, the flames licking the steak, the peppercorns being crushed. Euphonic videos by Belfast food blogger and content creator Jim Moore, aka Only Slaggin, show close-up shots of onions being thinly sliced, garlic being crushed and eggs frying. It’s fast paced, inspiring and appetising.
Emily Mariko, a 29-year-old from California, created a salmon rice bowl with seaweed, mayonnaise and sriracha and the way she did it ensured it amassed more than 76 million views. Her avocado and egg on toast has almost 50 million views too. These are staggering numbers. Each recipe is extremely easy and they come with the sound of ice cubes rattling, sriracha sauce pouring and salmon being mashed. Her food is very approachable, with no measurements or guidelines. It’s just Mariko in her kitchen making lunch and sharing her ideas with us.
Story time is big on TikTok: Melanie in Texas baking brownies, with her glittery acrylic nails, telling the story of how her cousin’s best friend’s brother’s boss cheated on her husband. It’s very difficult to look away. Her southern twang, the gossip, the rich chocolate batter being poured into the tray. After 10 seconds, the ganache is being swirled and spread with a palette knife as she neatly finishes the cautionary tale, taking a large bite out of the supersized brownie as it ends. Boom.
While it might seem easy, creating quality food content is hard work. So much time and effort goes into the planning, researching, recipe testing and then food shopping. You have to wear many hats and have different skills, unless there’s a production team behind you. Apart from having extensive knowledge on the topic, food and cooking, you need to be able to direct, shoot, light and edit each piece yourself. Editing is key when each second counts.
There is a new generation of cooks that have learned how to cook from a 30-second video, and that’s a good thing
Instagram IGTV videos can be up to an hour in duration but viewers make their mind up within three seconds whether they will continue to watch or not. Instagram’s Reels and the snappy, short videos on TikTok are also popular. Reels were introduced by Instagram in August 2020 and have become an essential tool for content creators hoping to go viral. Smooth transitions make successful videos. One minute the person on camera is cracking the eggs, then whisking the sauce and so on. A frenetic jolty pace is not enjoyable to watch, so smooth transition skills are essential to reassure the viewer they’re in safe hands and to enjoy the 30-second journey from pan to plate.
Good technical skills are one element of a successful food social media account but there are also content creators that are successful based on their personality and screen presence. It’s their likeability that has viewers supporting them. London-based Poppy O’Toole is the perfect example. She started her TikTok account when she was made redundant from her job as a chef at the start of the pandemic. She is a Michelin trained chef, and she’s also bubbly, chatty, relaxed and knowledgeable. In the past year, she has grown her following to 1.9 million, with 28 million likes, and has just published her first book, Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need, with a glowing review from Nigella Lawson.
Nasim Lahbichi is another personality that I love to see on my feed. He has more than 400,000 followers on TikTok and 200,000 on Instagram. His friendly, chatty nature makes his recipes glow even more. Born and raised in a Puerto Rican/Moroccan household in Brooklyn, his recipes are a beautiful fusion of these cultures, from zesty harissa tahini smashed potatoes to za’atar crusted maduros.
The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, is known for his personal training and fitness programmes, and his online live videos made his brand explode over the past year. In his Lean In 15 series of books and his online videos, he strips recipes right back to the most basic steps. Everything is incredibly simple and straightforward. It’s food to keep you lean and nourished and it really looks achievable. His carefree cooking methods and chirpy approach are so encouraging to novice home cooks.
Through various different approaches, styles and platforms, there is a new generation of cooks that have learned how to make themselves a toasted cheese wrap from a 30-second video, and that’s a good thing. Demystifying the kitchen is hugely positive as cooking is such an essential skill for life. Hopefully, this boom of cooking content creation will lead to more people satisfying their craving for good food through cooking more at home.