'Unicorn food' is colorful, sparkly and everywhere

Starbucks began selling “unicorn Frappuccinos” on Wednesday, a colorful kaleidoscope of a drink, breathing new life into a food trend that had been willed into existence by a torrent of carefully composed pictures shared on Instagram and other social media sites.

For the unaware: “Unicorn food” is any food item jazzed up with dye or cute accessories like fruit cut into little shapes or mountains of pastel marshmallows. The highly committed may add a horn, ears and a mane made of sculpted sugar.

This might happen to a cupcake, a piece of toast or a cup of coffee. It has been going on for roughly a year on both social media and in a handful of hip cafes. No unicorns are believed to have been harmed, so far.

It is all kind of a lot. And it is unlikely to stop any time soon thanks to Starbucks, whose short-term journey on this particular bandwagon (their unicorn drink will only be sold for five days) was greeted with both excitement and confusion online. For many, it was their first encounter with unicorn-themed foodstuffs.

Starbucks sent out a news release perhaps unsurprisingly filled with fairy tale language: “Like its mythical namesake, the Unicorn Frappuccino blended crème comes with a bit of magic,” it said. In statements to the news media, the company twice referred to the drink as “magic.”

But a Starbucks spokeswoman said there was no one we could interview about how they make a unicorn Frappuccino.

So we decided to talk to one of the people who kicked off the “unicorn food” trend instead: Adeline Waugh, 27, a health and wellness blogger and food stylist in Miami.

Waugh inadvertently helped start the trend last year after experimenting with a natural food dye — beetroot — to “add a pop of color to my photos,” she said. “I was never intending to start a trend.

“I posted it, and all my followers started saying it looked like a unicorn, so I said you’re right, and I started calling it that too,” she said. “Then all of a sudden

all these people were making it and tagging it, and now the unicorn thing has gotten just insane.”

Besides imitators, Waugh said she has also gotten attention from book publishers and, of course, online haters who sometimes leave nasty comments under her Instagram pictures.

“People get so mad about toast, it is crazy,” she said.

Much of what calls itself “unicorn food” online bears little resemblance to Waugh’s initial creations, which were designed with both nutrition and aesthetic value in mind.

The dye is made from cream cheese and crushed up natural ingredients like chlorophyll, for green, or crushed up, freeze-dried blueberries for purple, she said. Her work contains no marshmallows, artificial dye or towering horn-shaped fondants. There is nary a sprinkle in sight.

“The cream cheese version really just tastes like cream cheese,” she said. “It doesn’t have a strong flavor. It’s more for aesthetic purposes.”

Since then, people — those who eat food and those who just like to photograph it — have gone wild for rainbow bagels, unicorn lattes and the classic sprinkle. So many sprinkles, on top of cakes and ice creams, and sometimes both at once. (It is not to be confused with unicorn meat.)

Starbucks said its new drink is made, in part, from “white mocha, classic syrup and blue citric acid powder,” but it was not clear how closely their recipe adhered to the all-natural ethos that helped spark the trend. Will Starbucks customers be sipping organic smoothies laced with chlorophyll and beetroot? “I have my doubts,” Waugh said.

Starbucks had not spoken to her either, she said. She spent part of Tuesday fielding calls from friends who wondered if she was upset to have been cut out of the biggest and perhaps most lucrative unicorn food endeavor yet. But she was more circumspect.

“I mean, it’s not like I created unicorns, so I can’t be too mad about it,” she said. “But I definitely think the whole trend took off after my toast extravaganza.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Cooking and Recipes

Kentucky-style delights for Derby dinner
Kentucky-style delights for Derby dinner

This Saturday we’ll be watching Kentucky Derby number 144, the latest in a continuous string of races that have been run since 1875. A sporting event with that much history deserves a party, don’t you think? If you’re from Kentucky, that pretty much goes without saying. Michael Patria, executive chef at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta...
Quality fish key to smoked trout dip from Marlow’s Tavern
Quality fish key to smoked trout dip from Marlow’s Tavern

From the menu … Marlow’s Tavern, 1950 Satellite Blvd. NW., Duluth. 770-622-2033; marlowstavern.com Once a month I have a couple of hours to kill at Marlow’s Tavern in Duluth. They have a smoked trout dip that I love. I would really like to be able to make it at home so that I can try some of their other menu items on my monthly visit...
Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in metro Atlanta with these specials and parties
Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in metro Atlanta with these specials and parties

Margaritas are on tap at Cinco de Mayo parties in metro Atlanta. / Photo by adoproducciones, Creative Commons Ready to fiesta forever (or at least for one day)? Plenty of restaurants and bars are offering food and drink specials and hosting parties to recognize Cinco de Mayo. All events are May 5 unless otherwise noted. Atlanta Airport...
Spring cookbook releases bring author appearances to Atlanta
Spring cookbook releases bring author appearances to Atlanta

The arrival of spring means a slew of new books. In the food and cooking category, this season holds plenty of heavyweights, including cookbooks from Atlanta culinarians such as Taquería del Sol chef-partner Eddie Hernandez,Richards’ Southern Fried chef-owner Todd Richards and venerable Southern cookbook writer Virginia Willis. Add...
Featured food events in metro Atlanta April 24 – 29: Flying Biscuit Café party, whiskey walk, more
Featured food events in metro Atlanta April 24 – 29: Flying Biscuit Café party, whiskey walk, more

Head to Gypsy Kitchen every Sunday for live flamenco music, $6 glasses of rosé, half off select bottles of wine and more. Photo credit: Melissa Libby PR. Head to Buckhead for complimentary cake and giveaways at the Flying Biscuit Café. Celebrate Sundays with half-price bottles of wine, flamenco music and more...
More Stories