The Most Popular American Food Trends From The Past 40 Years

Just like clothes, different foods have certain time periods when they trend. This has been happening for centuries where certain foods will become relevant due to the changing tastes of popular culture. There are also several economic, social, and geographic influences as well.

Some foods from the early 20th century are almost obsolete, while others have remained part of a staple American diet. Each decade has significant food trends and these are the most memorable from the past 40 years.

As you’ll soon discover, one flavor took the 90s by storm.

Don’t Forget to Bring the Tri-Color Pasta Salad to the Barbecue

a man stirring a bowl of tri-color pasta tortellini
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Barbecues in the 1980s wouldn’t have been complete without a tri-color pasta salad. The white, orange, and green noodles were usually prepared with bottled Italian dressing, canned black olives, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and some mozzarella balls.

The 80s introduced people to a wide variety of new artificially-flavored junk food because of the increase in consumerism, but new recipes were also making their way onto American’s plates. Even though this dish was widely popular almost 40 years ago, it can still be found in the deli section of numerous grocery stores.

Pop a Chicken Kiev in the Oven

chicken kiev on a plate with a fork
Bob Carey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Bob Carey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

During the 1980s there was an increase in freezer food that could quickly be prepared for the family. One of the top choices was chicken Kiev. This rich dish had chicken stuffed with garlic butter and coated in breadcrumbs.

It originated in Russia around the 18th century, but didn’t become well-known in America until becoming the Marks & Spencer’s first “ready-made meal.” They also introduced new varieties that included leek and bacon, cheese and ham, and a vegetarian option.

Let Me See that Sushi Roll

a palette of sushi on a table with chopsticks
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

There’s a moment in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club where one of the characters brings out a sushi lunch and her classmates have no clue what she’s eating. This is because sushi only first started to be included in American diets in the 1980s. The California roll was the roll that really influenced the spread of its popularity.

In today’s society sushi is one of the most common foods to find in the United States with new varieties frequently introduced. Other Asian dishes including General Tso chicken and chow mein also started to become a staple in Western cuisine.

Cool Ranch Doritos Had a Flavor Unlike No Other

vintage bag of cool ranch doritos from the 80s
YouTube: wiifermadness
YouTube: wiifermadness

The world needs to thank Disneyland for Doritos. It was first made at one of the restaurants in the theme park and was finally released in 1964 by Frito-Lay as an unflavored tortilla chip.

The 1970s brought the first flavored Dorito with nacho cheese and finally in 1986 Cool Ranch Doritos came into the picture. They were creamy and had a spicy kick that was rare to find in flavored chips. Ranch is now one of the most common flavors to find in snacks.

This frozen treat was all the rage in the 1980s.

Nothing’s More Delicious Than Frozen Yogurt

frozen yogurt with berries and other fruit
Lisa Wiltse/Corbis via Getty Images
Lisa Wiltse/Corbis via Getty Images

Around the late 1970s and early 1980s, people were looking for delicious foods that were low in fat and carbohydrates. Many were thrilled to have an almost identical cold treat to ice cream. Frozen yogurt was first introduced in the 1970s, but it didn’t become widely known until the 1980s.

It’s been about four decades and it’s still one of the most popular dessert options in the U.S. Chains like Pinkberry, Menchies, and Golden Spoon have popped up all over the country with constantly changing flavors and toppings. It’s now more common to self-serve rather than have someone prepare it for you.

Heinz Ketchup in All the Colors of the Rainbow

a few bottles of heinz ez squirt mystery color ketchup and a cheeseburger and fries on a placemat
Heinz/Getty Images
Heinz/Getty Images

The early 2000s were a strange time for food concoctions and one example is Heinz EZ Squirt ketchup. This product came in multiple colors and was mostly advertised to kids. All of the flavors ended up being limited edition and only lasted from 2000 to 2006.

The very first variety was called “Blastin’ Green” and was used as a promotional product for the first Shrek film. By the end of Heinz EZ Squirt’s production, over 25 million were sold, which was a 60 percent increase in the ketchup market.

Kids Went Wild for Lunchables

lunchables on a grocery store shelf
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Lunchables first hit grocery store shelves nationwide in 1989 and were a school lunch favorite for kids across the country. They were created as a way for Oscar Mayer to sell more bologna and other deli meat in the mid-80s.

There are still tons of varieties including pizza, chicken nuggets, nachos, and burgers and each of them usually include a juice pouch and a piece of candy. Unfortunately, it was reported in 1997 that Lunchables were one of the causes for childhood obesity due to their high saturated fat and sodium content.

You Can’t Find Dunkaroos Anymore

the front of a package of dunkaroos
YouTube: Tami Dunn
YouTube: Tami Dunn

The 1990s were all about sugary snacks with brightly colored packaging that were marketed toward children. This rang true with Betty Crocker’s Dunkaroos. They were first released in 1990 and contained individually wrapped snack sizes of cookies that were dunked in a pocket of icing.

Dunkaroos were finally discontinued in the United States in 2012, but continued to be sold in Canada for six more years. Some Canadians were even encouraged to smuggle the snack into the U.S. for Americans who craved them.

Everyone was putting this next food on everything in the 90s.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes Take Over the 90s

a bag of sundried tomatoes
Stanley Shin/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Stanley Shin/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

One of the most popular ways to garnish food in the 1990s was with sun-dried tomatoes. They have a similar production process to raisins where they’re left out in the sun and become wrinkly, but sun-dried tomatoes are packed with an almost umami-like unique flavor.

People would put them on foods such as pasta, pizza, and salads. It became so famous that it was a popular choice for flavoring. There’s now sun-dried tomato cream cheese, potato chips, and even doughnuts. Sun-dried tomatoes are still widely used on menus today, but it’s not something that people seek out as often as they did a few decades ago.

When Kiwi Met Strawberry

kiwis and strawberries
Vision Photos/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Vision Photos/ullstein bild via Getty Images

It’s a mystery why it took so long for one of the greatest flavor combinations to exist. By the mid-1970s kiwis had taken over New York after being introduced by New Zealand, but the rest of the United States still considered it to be too weird for their palette.

Kiwi farmers struggled to make ends meet until the 1990s when corporations including Airheads and Jell-O decided to mix kiwis with strawberries to create a whole new flavor. Kiwi strawberry was Snapple’s number one seller in 1995. It may have been a 90s fad, but kiwi strawberry remains a highly requested flavor for drinks, candy, lip gloss, and more.

The Veggie Burger Rivalry of the 90s

a package of boca original vegan veggie burgers
Stanley Shin/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Stanley Shin/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

No one had uttered the word “veggie burger” until 1976, but meatless diets have dated back to the 1960s. In the 1990s people mainly had two options fro a frozen veggie burger that they could make at home. There was Garden Burger or Boca Burger.

Garden Burger focused on the grains and vegetables, while Boca Burger made meatless patties that looked and tasted like real meat. Both of these brands are still sold in grocery stores, but the masses are now turning to different alternatives such as Impossible Burgers.

The Big Cupcake Infatuation

chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting and sprinkles on plates
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It’s difficult to spot exactly when the cupcake trend first started, but some food experts think it may be due to Carrie Bradshaw’s love for them at the Magnolia Bakery in HBO’s Sex and the City. Pretty soon after cupcake shops were popping up all over the country with chains such as Sprinkles and Crumbs.

The gourmet cupcake trend lasted from about 2000 to 2009 when critics began to see how saturated the market was. Nasdaq reported that similar to doughnut stocks in the 90s, cupcake franchises expanded too quickly.

Don’t Hog the Ramen

a bowl of ramen with shiitake mushroom, egg, sliced beef, and greens
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It took America until the 21st century to popularize ramen. Now, there are countless ramen shops in almost every town. Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle dish that contains a broth and can be customized with different meats, vegetables, seafood, herbs, and spices.

When Chef David Chang opened the Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York in the mid-2000s it became a game changer for the food industry. There were lines out the door everyday and it paved the way for the ramen restaurants that soon followed.

How Pumpkin Spice Became a Novelty Food Item

glass of pumpkin spice latte with pumpkin puree, milk foam, and cinnamon
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Pumpkin spice has a new connotation in 21st century America. Some people like to associate it (especially the lattes) with being “basic” and there’s a stereotype that the only ones who eat it are young women wearing UGG boots in autumn.

The trend was first introduced in 2003 and over 200 million pumpkin spice products have been sold since. There was so much success with pumpkin spice that people started to put it on everything. During the fall it’s common to see foods including pumpkin spice bagels, yogurt, cheesecake, and more. Experts believe that food corporations are trying to create something that could be the next pumpkin spice.

This food went perfectly with doughnuts and salads…

Did You Want Some Bacon With That?

close-up of cooked bacon
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

There was some point in the mid-2000s where bacon broke away from the breakfast menu and made its way onto all sorts of other food items. There was bacon flavored ice cream, maple doughnuts with bacon baked in, bacon-wrapped everything, and crumbles of bacon on salads and mac and cheese.

It became so popular that by 2008 bacon sales topped the charts at $2 billion. Bacon fanatics even created a Baconfest where they could eat the bacon dish of their dreams. Then, towards the end of the 2000s the swine flu epidemic scared consumers and decreased bacon sales.

Millennials are Obsessed With Avocado Toast

avocado toast with ricotta, egg yolk, spinach, and cherry tomatoes on a plate
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One of the biggest stereotypes about millennials is that they can’t afford to buy the essentials because they’re spending all their money on avocado toast. While that stereotype has been debunked, it still mentions how much avocado toast has made its way into American pop culture.

Some think that the dish first appeared in the U.S. when Chef Chloe Osborne added it to her menu at New York’s Cafe Gitane, but it didn’t reach its peak fame until around 2013 when Gwyneth Paltrow included it in her cookbook. It’s now rare to scroll through Instagram and not see at least one photo of avocado up.

The Nutella Trend is Spreading

a jar of chocolate nutella
Diego Puletto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Diego Puletto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Even though Nutella was at one point one of the most sought after food items in the United States, it actually hails from Europe. Inventor Pietro Ferrero didn’t actually intend to make it with hazelnuts, but he needed to add them to increase the volume in his spreadable chocolate.

By 2013 Nutella had become a global phenomenon and appeared as an addition to many classic desserts such as crêpes and ice cream. Something unique about it is that Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United States all have different ingredients in their Nutella recipes.

Macarons are a Bite-Size Sensation

green, orange, yellow, and red macarons on a shelf
Richard Bord/Getty Images
Richard Bord/Getty Images

Soon after cupcakes went out of style the French dessert macrons came into the picture. It’s important not to confuse a macaron with a macaroon because a macaroon is a cookie made from almonds, coconut, and sugar, whereas a macaron is one of the more artistic cookies that requires a crispy crust and a soft and chewy interior.

There are dozens of flavors to choose from including pistachio, chocolate, berry, and even wild ones like wasabi. Macarons were at their peak around 2014 and can be found in grocery stores, shopping malls, and bakeries. They are so small that it’s difficult to eat only one.

Poke Bowls Take Over the Fast Food Industry

poke bowl with tuna, lettuce, avocado, and crispy noodles
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

When most people think of fast food they usually associate it with burgers and fried food, but with a more health conscious country there are many new options out there. One of the latest trends are poke bowls.

This raw fish dish originated in Hawaii and has popped up in restaurants all over the United States. From 2014 to 2016 the number of poke bowl restaurants actually doubled. Usually, the bowls have tuna and can be customized with toppings such as avocado, peas, onions, and sesame seeds.

Social media helped make this one of the most sought after beverages for millennials.

Why Millennials Were Sipping on LaCroix

many cans of tangerine lacroix in a black ice bucket
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

Food trends come and go and the sparkling water beverage LaCroix is just at the end of its popularity. The drink was first invented in 1981 by the G. Heileman Brewing Company and was mostly known in the Midwest. Around 2015 their profits basically tripled when the company started to target a consumer base of millennials on social media.

They marketed the beverage as a healthy alternative to soda and juice and released many unique flavors such as tangerine, pamplemousse (grapefruit), lime, and peach-pear. It’s been about four years since their massive success, but now their sales are starting to fizzle.