In mythology, unicorns are legendary, horse-like beasts with spiraling horns projecting from the center of their foreheads. In our current food culture, “unicorn food” describes any menu item that’s highly colorful, incredibly sparkly and more than just a little bit over-the-top.
According to the New York Times, “‘Unicorn food’ is any food item jazzed up with dye or cute accessories like fruit cut into little shapes or mountains of pastel marshmallows.” Some food writers see the wave of unicorn comestibles as part of a larger trend for highly colored foods known as Lisa Frankenfoods, named for the kaleidoscopically hued school supplies that were all the rage when the current crop of Funfetti-loving Instagrammers were younger.
The unicorn food craze, which can cover everything from nostalgic, kid-friendly items like cupcakes or toast to more adult-focused sushi and cocktails, is serving up extra helpings of glittery, good-natured fun on menus all over the country, from local bakeries to higher-end restaurants.
One of unicorn food’s most popular appearances has been on the drinks scene, both in nonalcoholic and boozy version. Last year, Starbucks offered a limited-edition Unicorn Frappucino, a color-changing calorie bomb made from white mocha, syrup and blue citric acid powder. It had a whopping 59 grams of sugar and 410 calories in a 16-ounce serving. But it looks positively virtuous compared to Manhattan’s Industry Kitchen’s Unicorn Pizza, which features a rainbow crust, cream cheese frosting, Pop Rocks, and cotton candy as topping.
On the better-for-you side of the equation, there’s the option to use the deep coloring of Blue Majik spirulina extract, which is the star ingredient in the Unicorn Latte described as “restorative and healing” on the menu at The End, a coffee bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. For cocktails, choices include the Unicorn Fizz, a pink-and-blue adaptation of a Ramos Gin Fizz, made with pamplemousse liqueur, blue curacao and grenadine, served at the Gristmill in Brooklyn.
As far as the all-things-unicorn aficionados who are fueling the trend are concerned, you can never have too much color or sparkle in your meals. If you’d like to ride a unicorn to menu success, consider ordering a big batch of food dye, dipping into the vat of sprinkles and letting your own creativity be your guide.