The Most Ridiculous Food Trends of the Past 100 Years

Shutterstock / Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

It's easy to rag on previous generations' fashion sense or dance moves. (Nice foxtrot, dummy!) But silly food fads don't often get the same amount of ridicule. They definitely deserve it, though, which is why we put together a guide to some of the most absurd, weird, and/or laughable culinary trends of the past century. Our fancy cupcake fixation might be embarrassing, but it's not nearly as mortifying as the phallic-shaped "salads" that were going around during Prohibition.

1910s: Milk toast

Remember when warm milk was still a thing? You're not 80, so of course you don't, but it was still very much alive in the '10s. One of its most prominent appearances was on "milk toast," a piece of toast drenched in warm milk and sprinkled with salt. More modern iterations look pretty tasty, but the early versions were so bland, cartoonist H.T. Webster was spurred to name his mild-mannered comic strip character Caspar Milquetoast. (And yes, that's how we got that word.)

Flickr/schadenfreude lola

1920s: Cream cheese, mayo, and "candle" salads

To be fair, the chefs of this era were still getting the hang of the whole salad thing -- the Caesar salad wasn't even invented until 1924. But they made some mighty puzzling choices along the way. Several recipes from this decade called for gobs of cream cheese or mayonnaise. And then there was the candle salad, which was surely our perverted great-grandparents' way of messing with us. This "salad" started with a piece of lettuce, added a slice of pineapple, then a banana positioned upright, and finally a cherry. Some people even dabbed whipped cream on the side of the banana. The worst part? It was often considered a Christmas treat. Because it looked like a candle, and nothing else.

Spam cans
Flickr/Daniel Go

1930s/1940s: Spam everything

This trend emerged largely out of necessity. The '30s had the Great Depression and the '40s had war rationing, so Spam's low cost was a big draw. But as with any fad, it just went too far. Spam and eggs is acceptable, but Spam 'N' Limas? No sir.

1940s: Noodle rings

The concept of a "noodle ring" is fairly harmless. It's a baked bundt of pasta (brushed in an egg mixture prior) and while it looks pretty silly, it's not going to hurt you. Until you add creamed chicken to the center. Then it hurts everyone.

Cranberry Jell-O salad

1950s: Jell-O salads

These monstrosities unfortunately bled over into other decades, but they're most commonly associated with the Leave It to Beaver era. The term "Jell-O salad" applied to a lot of variations, but it always started with a box of the gelatin mix. Real fruit was often incorporated, maybe some nuts or marshmallows too, and, most upsettingly, mayo or salad dressing. (Veggies didn't appear all that often, but popped up on occasion.) We'll stick with our Jell-O cups, thank you.

1960s: Flambé everything

They might've been throwing up peace signs at Woodstock, but in '60s kitchens, people were more interested in setting shit on fire. It wasn't just the obvious stuff like bananas Foster, either. Cooks nationwide were so into torching their meals, one man (John J. Poister) even released The Pyromaniac's Cookbook in 1968. Read it responsibly.

Cheese fondue pot

1970s: Fondue parties

Melted cheese is delicious. So is chocolate. And while we're glad fondue remains an option, it's crazy to think about a time when gathering around a fancy pot of boiling cheese with skewers of bread was happening on the daily. Have you ever cleaned a fondue pot? We haven't, but it looks like a ton of work.

1980s: Caviar craze

The '80s were a time of decadence, so it makes sense that people would latch onto a notoriously expensive emblem of the upper class. During this decade, over 1,000 tons of salty fish eggs were processed worldwide. It was popular on its own, or on blinis with sour cream. It was also later name-checked in the Dynasty reunion special, which actually might be the most '80s thing about it.

1980s/1990s: Cabbage soup diet

For such a weird and unappealing fad, this one has a way of showing up everywhere. It technically conducted its first reign of terror in the '50s, but made a bigger splash in the '80s and ensuing '90s thanks to Dolly Parton. Dolly became so associated with the seven-day system that many people just called it the "Dolly Parton Diet," but boy is it an unpleasant thing to have your name slapped onto. The plan requires you to eat a ton of smelly cabbage soup, along with certain fruits, veggies, or meats assigned on different days. It supposedly can knock off up to 10lbs in a week -- like most risky crash diets -- but is eating that volume of cabbage worth it? Of course not.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

2000s/2010s: Fancy cupcakes

Though specialty bakeries had already been building ground in the '90s, it wasn't until Sex and the City featured a Magnolia Bakery cameo in a 2000 episode that the craze kicked off. Now that the trend is dead and we have some distance, we can better appreciate how stupid it was. While cupcakes are delicious, they should never cost $5. Or require more than a baking spatula to sculpt.

Kristin Hunt is a staff writer for Thrillist, and is glad she never had to live through '50s homecooking. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.