The Unicorn Frap says ‘Cheese’

Instagram and the Increasing Photogenic-ness of Food


Remember all the way back to April when we were inundated by Starbucks’ limited time offering, the Unicorn Frappuccino? It was a sweet, sour, psychedelic concoction that helped bump Starbucks traffic and sales for the few days it was available, and yes, it was all over your Instagram feed. When the promotion was over, the hashtag #unicornfrappuccino left a rainbow trail of  more than 161,000 posts.



Did you miss out? To fill the multi-color void, you might be able to get your hands on photo of one of Starbucks’ equally colorful, but unofficial frappuccino offerings, the Mermaid, Dragon, or the Disneyland-exclusive Pink Pegasus, boasting swirls of berry, matcha, vanilla, and all the sugar. Or maybe pick up, photograph, then not drink, Dunkin’ Donuts’ answer to the photo-worthy beverage craze – their bright blue Energy Punch drink, made with a can of Monster energy drink.

While these offerings make a feast for your eyes and for your camera lens, are they a feast for your taste buds? Does it matter?

Where once Instagram was a great tool to capture food trends – think latte art (+3,600,000 Instagram posts), molecular gastronomy (+58,000), cronuts (191,000) – it’s now also a factor in food designers’ decisions that move an item from a test kitchen to our plates and then into our camera rolls.  The strategy, of course, is that the relatively inexpensive advertising of viral vittles will grow excitement, brand recognition and sales. A recent Los Angeles Times article noted that once Chili’s started making their food more photo friendly by egg washing buns for a better sheen and modernizing their plating, the company’s Instagram following grew from 25,000 to 200,000.

Before unicorns made way for mermaids in the coffee world, unicorn toast did the same for mermaid toast. Both colorful breakfast treats were created by food stylist Adeline Waugh for the purpose of being photographed, inspiring amateur food stylists/Instagrammers to recreate them at home. Whether people actually ate the stuff, we may never know. Unicorn toast is rainbow dyed cream cheese, topped with a smattering of sprinkles, while mermaid toast is made by swirling blue-green algae with almond cream cheese, then dusting the whole thing with gold flakes. Personally, it sounds disgusting, but it’s pretty and I would take a bite for a photo opp because it would definitely make my blue eyes pop.


A post shared by Adeline Waugh (@vibrantandpure) on


That’s right, I’m into it. I was right there with my kids in San Francisco’s Japantown, taking seemingly endless footage of them with “smoke” coming out of our noses as we chomped on Dragon’s Breath (28,000 posts) which is basically fruit loops pumped with liquid nitrogen. “Do we have enough pictures?” one kid asked, “can we be done with this now?”



I was there for Burger King’s Mac & Cheetos.



And this Friday? I’ll be in line at McDonald’s for the Frork. Announced just this week by way of a satirical informercial, the very real frork is a plastic handle, in which you insert fries as the tines, allowing you to scoop the delicious drips from one of their new “Signature Crafted Recipe” sandwiches, making for a fun and action packed Instagram post for your friends to enjoy.

Say cheese.


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