TikTok has been known for its interesting viral video content since it first came to the attention of the average American. It's hard to overstate the app's impact. For example, many of the songs released on TikTok have become hit singles and even reached the top of music charts around the world.
In other words, TikTok is actually reinventing the culture. And as the grilled cheese pasta proves, TikTok is changing the way average Americans eat, too.
The food on TikTok doesn't have to be perfect.
DigitalEthnographyResearchCentre research institutions focus on the study of digital and algorithm's impact on daily life. Its director, TaniaLewis, says cooking shows and celebrities have historically influenced Western food culture.
But social media has made the process more common, and now anyone can be a food star.
Lewis is also a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Melbourne, Australia. "The new 'celebrities' are not necessarily professionals on TV shows, but home-based chefs and fashion foodies who have become web celebrity via YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and so on," he said.
"TikTok's success in the food space has been driven by the growth of the food media over the past 20 years and the burgeoning interest and knowledge among the general public, especially the aspirant middle class."
TikTok's millennial audience also makes food content more appealing.
GabrielleReyes, the chef behind the TikTok account OneGreatVegan, posts vegetarian recipes with music in the background. She says her TikTok audience ranges in age from 6 to 16.
So it makes sense that TikTok's grilled-cheese pasta, spiral potatoes, tortillas and other gourmet content are popular. Reyes says they are very easy to make and often very tempting to look at.
"It's something a child can do," she said.
JonKung runs an account on TikTok called JonKung. He has been Posting videos there since last May. Food content on Instagram tends to focus more on appearance than taste, he said. It was, he said, "food made for photography." TikTok is not.
"[TikTok users] prefer things that are personal rather than flashy," Kong said.
This is not to say that all the food on TikTok is shoddy. Classic food photos taken by Instagram's food creators are also popular on the platform. But beyond that, TikTok has real elements that other food media don't.
That's the case with Jon's recent TikTok video. He tried his own orange chicken nuggets at Panda Express. Jon Koon in the video cut the chicken into pieces, marinated it, breaded it, and then fried it in the pan. He also accidentally spattered himself with cornstarch.
Jon explains his production process in a voiceover. But instead of listing the ingredients and quantities, he talked about seeing a certain brand of orange soda in a grocery store and being inspired to try it. He encouraged the audience to make themselves happier.
"Sure, I add some chilli, herbs and spices, but there's no need to be so dogmatic all the time," Mr. Kong said in the video.
This video is less than a minute long. That's part of the appeal of TikTok's food content: You don't have to spend 20 minutes watching a video that repeatedly explains the details of how to make a dish. The details of cooking do matter, but the TikTok video only serves to inform viewers of the main lessons that make cooking more fun.
A cultural exchange in less than 60 seconds
Joanne Neel.Molinaro is a self-taught chef who runs a food blog called The KoreanVegan. In 2020, she started Posting videos on TikTok, where she now has more than 2 million followers.
Molinaro's posts are both about food and about more than food. For example, in a video on how to make hot pot for the South Korean army, she talks about her relationship with her father. Over hot grilled cheese pasta, she expresses love and insecurity.
This presentation makes her videos not only about food, but also about family and culture.
"When I entered TikTok, [the young audience] was ready to talk to me about these deeper issues related to food," Molinaro says.
TikTok is changing what people eat
TikTok can do more than just share simple recipes or introduce new ingredients. The platform is also changing what people eat.
After the popularity of TikTok, the classic burrito began appearing on menus across the United States. After someone posted a video of eating fufu, the West African staple food -- a paste made from the ground up of cassava, yam, banana and rice -- the food became popular.
"TikTok has become a center of soft culture," Mr. Kong said. "TikTok goes to Instagram,Instagram goes to Facebook,Facebook goes to everybody else. I'm seeing more and more burritos on the menu, and I can see why they're doing it."
"TikTok does a really good job of verifying that different things are good," he said. Especially young people are more open to it. It opens up their worldview."
From introducing simple foods like grilled cheese pasta to making burritos a household name, the creators of TikTok have helped millions of people enjoy food in a new and shareable way.