We Need to Discuss TikTok’s Latest Cereal Trend

Has it gone too far?

tiktok mini cereal
Photos: stickaforkineme/soflofooodie/sweetportfolio/Instagram; Illustration: Emily Carpenter/Thrillist

You’ve seen it on your feed countless times. Small dots of batter are piped onto a hot frying pan and just as the bottom of the pan is covered in spots, they’re turned over to reveal golden, dime-sized pancakes. Cut. Now fast forward to the bowl, where the little pancakes are dumped in and topped with a thick square of butter and drizzled in syrup or -- more appropriate for the name -- doused in milk by a hand connected to a body off screen.

It’s pancake cereal. Sydney Melhoff had the idea back in April. She had just finished making a batch of regular pancakes when she picked up a splash of batter that had cooked over on the side of the pan. It was so good -- like a crispier version of the warm, slightly sweet pancakes we all love -- so she made an entire bowl of little bites and posted it on TikTok. Her version looks a lot more like the Dippin’ Dots version of pancakes than the thousands of bite-sized pancake cereal posts that followed and have dominated TikTok and Instagram for the past month.

Before long, videos tagged #pancakecereal racked up more than a billion views on TikTok and Melhoff’s video inspired thousands of spin-offs, including our own. There was a time when I couldn’t open either app without seeing a different bowl filled with tiny pancakes floating in milk, but only a few weeks later, that scene had been replaced with muffins, donuts, cinnamon rolls, cookies, croissants, and just about every other morning confection you could think of splashed with a healthy serving of milk.

I didn’t think much of it. It was just another viral food trend like Dalgona Coffee or Frog Bread, but sushi was the recent tipping point. When I saw that Wave Asian Bistro down in Mount Dora, Florida made a miniature roll, sliced it up, and poured milk over the raw fish, rice, and seaweed to later post it on Instagram, I had to ask… what the hell is going on here?

So I went straight to the source and talked to six Instagrammers and TikTokers about why they jumped on the viral trend. Melhoff said her later cereal posts, like banana split cereal and cake pop cereal, became a fun creative outlet and several other posters echoed her sentiment. Valentina Mussi, who runs the Instagram account sweetportfolio, said making mini muffin cereal and mini pizza cereal (a.k.a… Bagel Bites?) to post on her feed was a fun way to use the spare time we all have while we’re inside trying to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19.

While making several variations of waffle and tiny donut cereals, Stephanie Ghitis and Shalean LaBerge, who run the Instagram account soflofooodie said it can be “really time consuming” to individually cut, frost, and sprinkle itty bitty donuts, and that doesn’t even factor in the time you take to film the video, edit it, write up the recipe for the caption, and post it. But the duo said they continued trying different cereal variations because “anything tiny seems to catch people’s eye.”

And they’re right. But why is that? We’ve always loved tiny things. There are shows dedicated to tiny houses and social media accounts that consist of tiny architecture, tiny people on not-so-tiny things, and random things that just so happen to be tiny. Kids all over the world play with tiny houses with tiny people inside, and I had a tiny oven that I used to make tiny cakes with my own tiny hands. We love tiny! But why?

There’s no shortage of small things that we all love, and this isn’t the first time our obsession with all things small has shown up in the food world. Yes, there’s already Cookie Crisp, officially branded Pop Tart Cereal, and French Toast Crunch on supermarket shelves, but mini food was part of our life via sliders, cupcakes, and Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins even before the cereal idea came into play. Plus, it was already all over the internet (and it was even smaller), mostly thanks to the Japanese culture of kawaii.

Kawaii, which loosely translates to mean “cute,” is a cornerstone of Japanese pop culture that includes Hello Kitty, countless comics, and other forms of entertainment. This too has forayed into the food world through YouTube. Channels like Miniature Space make food on little stovetops about the size of your pinky fingernail and use pots and pans that could be tough to grab if you have super-long acrylic nails or just frankly are not very nimble. These accounts garnered millions of views and captivated viewers starting in 2014, way before TikTok was even a distant idea.

For years, psychologists and other professionals who study miniatures have said that making small things like dollhouses or, in this case, cereal out of things that are not traditionally cereal, can be a positive influence on your mental health. Taking on an intricate project like making something miniature can take one’s mind off all that’s going on around them and help aid relaxation.

“There’s a level of control that’s appealing,” Nicole Cooley, a professor at Queens College who is working on a non-fiction book about the draw of miniatures, told the New York Times in 2016. And other experts told the Times that miniatures are tied to fantasy in the sense that they help users escape from harsh realities, so in this time of immense uncertainty and constant stress, something as small as wrapping up mini croissants or rolling up mini cinnamon buns can be soothing and stress-relieving. Plus, we’ve already found a little comfort in eating donuts, bread, and other soothing carbs, so making them miniature only sweetens the deal.

Rachel Samson, who runs the Instagram account stickaforkinme, said viral food like this can be hit or miss and, honestly, some of the cereal variations she’s made have missed the mark. The chocolate chip cookie cereal turned to complete mush within minutes as the cookies soaked up the milk surrounding them, while her PB&J variation that utilized French Toast Crunch cereal pieces remained crispy and had a well-balanced flavor.

But Samson said she’s gained about 100,000 followers since we all started quarantining as users clamor for something entertaining to watch or try themselves during long days at home. Considering the potential for viral fame, mental health benefits tied to making something tiny, and frankly just the prospect of having something fun to do that might taste pretty good in the end, you really can’t blame the masses for indulging in a little mini cereal trend.

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Liz Provencher is an editorial assistant at Thrillist. You can talk to her at lprovencher@thrillist.com or follow her on Instagram.