The Biggest Food Fads of the Past 50 Years

Source: Maica / Getty Images

Fads and fashions have always been part of the world of food. When a certain athlete in Ancient Greece ate only meat for a year before the Olympic Games, then placed highly, a craze for meat-only diets swept across the country. Hot cross buns won Cronut-like popularity in 15th-century England (and similarly defied attempts at imitation).

Sometimes fads are launched in reaction to commercial innovation. When the Hawaiian Pineapple Company invented a way to peel, core, and slice pineapples for canning on an industrial scale in the early 1900s, pineapple upside-down cakes became a ubiquitous dessert. When Swanson introduced the TV dinner in 1953, these iconic frozen meals in segmented containers were hailed across the country as a time- and labor-saving miracle, allowing families to congregate around the television.

Some fads turn into essential parts of the culture. Consumption of a dark, hot beverage originating in eastern Africa became a virtual mania in mid-17th-century England; today it is impossible to imagine life without it. (It was coffee, of course, and here are the best coffee shops in America.)

On the other hand, a sausage-like concoction called liver loaf was a big deal in America in 1947, but you’d be hard put to find it anywhere today, and probably wouldn’t want to eat it if you did — just like these bacon-flavored foods the world doesn’t need.

In assembling this list of big food fads from the past five decades, 24/7 Tempo has considered specific dishes, whole culinary genres, and dietary trends. Not every significant fad is present; a list of every one would run into the hundreds, if not thousands.

The fads here are grouped by decade. It’s often hard to attach a fad to a specific time span, though, because most tend to start slowly, build to maximum strength, and then slowly fade — without ever really going away completely. The periods given represent the high points for each one.

All of the items listed here are still around. Some are commonplace, others encountered a bit less often, but all reflect the commercial or nutritional influences and consumer tastes of their time.