May 16, 2024 | Samantha Henman

90s Food Trends That Need To Come Back


All That’s Old Is New Again

People really branched out of their comfort zones in the 1990s…and occasionally, things got weird. From new (to us) “gourmet” options like angel hair pasta and molten chocolate cake to grocery-store offerings like Toaster Strudel and Orbitz—remember Orbitz?—the 1990s had a lot of great foods that maybe, just maybe, should come back.

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Viennetta

No TV ad for a frozen dessert made as much of an impression on kids and adults alike as Viennetta did in the 1990s. For many kids, it felt like this layered ice cream and chocolate dessert was considered the height of luxury—an opinion that still seems to persist, even though it’s a pretty simple confection.

Close-up Photo of Viennetta ice creamcarpe89, Shutterstock

Orbitz

When Orbitz came out, kids and teen had never seen anything like it before. Like a lava lamp in a bottle, the drink played into the late 1990s fascination with retro space age aesthetics. I can still taste the one with the pink bubbles to this day.

Close-up Photo of Orbitz bottle on a blurred backgroundJesse! S?, Flickr

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Were you really having a salad in the 1990s if it didn’t come topped with a magenta-hued raspberry vinaigrette? Like other entries on this list, raspberry vinaigrette first came to attention in the popular 1980s Silver Palate Cookbook, before it eventually made its way to grocery store shelves thanks to Kraft and Newman’s Own, which subbed raspberry juice for raspberry vinegar.

Close-up Photo of of Raspberry Vinaigrette in a clear cupLe Mai, Flickr

Angel Hair Pasta

The Tuscan trend that took over food and kitchen décor was responsible for the popularity of perhaps one of the most misused pasta shapes, angel hair pasta—AKA capellini. It fit right in with the light, low-fat sauces that were popular at the time—although far too often, it was overcooked and mushy.

Close-up Photo of Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp in a white bowlkae71463, Flickr

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Another Tuscan staple, sun-dried tomatoes took the culinary world by storm before trickling down to home cooks in the early 1990s. They were eaten in antipasto dishes, pasta, salads, and as a pizza topping before they got so overused that people grew sick of them by the late 90s.

Close-up Photo of Sun-dried tomatoesKlearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr

Everything Strawberry-Kiwi

In the 1980s, California farmers began to grow kiwis, buoyed by the fact that such an “exotic” fruit could be so easy to grow. There was just one problem—no one was eating them. A few marketing meetings later, and the tart kiwi got married to the sweet strawberry in a new Snapple beverage, and history was made.

Strawberry-Kiwi became the flavor combination of the decade, popping up in drinks, snacks, alcoholic beverages, and cosmetic products, like scented body sprays and Bonne Belle Lip Smackers lip balms.

Close-up Photo of Kiwi and StrawberriesNoemí Jiménez, Pexels

Snapple

Speaking of Snapple, the world fell for their juice-based or “accented” beverages, which, thanks to various misguided attempts by food lobbyists, seemed like a healthier alternative to soda. Spoiler alert: they weren’t. And Snapple just happened to be there, at the right time, to happily occupy their place behind Coke and Pepsi—proudly proclaiming “We’re number 3!”

With of-the-moment flavors like Melonberry and Cranberry Raspberry, they reached that spot easily.

Close-up Photo of Snapple Pink Lemonade Mike Mozart, Flickr

Snackwell’s

What low carbs and “100-calorie packs” were to the 2000s, low-fat was to the 1990s. There were low- or no-fat versions of what felt like nearly every product on the market—and then there were Snackwell’s, who came out with no-fat cookies in various flavors.

While they may not have been good in an objective sense, plenty of people who grew up mired in the diet culture of the 1990s would at least find the flavor nostalgic.

Snackwell's Devils Food CookiesGeoff, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Dunkaroos

On the opposite end of the spectrum of Snackwell’s were Dunkaroos—a grocery store sugary treat that had no business being as good as they were. The cookie-and-icing dip combo was a next-level treat—and luckily, in 2020, they made a return to market (though they still need to bring back the cinnamon cookie/sprinkle icing duo).

Close-up Photo of Dunkaroos Cookie in a blue bowl with white cream:kirsch:, Flickr

Pesto

Pine nut and basil farmers must have rejoiced in the 1990s when pesto became part of the ever-growing Tuscan food trend—even though pesto is technically from Genoa. The vibrant green condiment found its way onto restaurant menus and later, grocery store shelves—and it’s stuck around ever since.

Close-up Photo of Pesto SauceСтефанија Видовски, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Dirt And Worms

Was it really a kid’s birthday party in the 1990s if there wasn’t a dirt and worms cake? And if you really wanted to take it up a notch, it would be served in a terracotta flowerpot. Dirt and worms cake features crushed Oreos on top of chocolate or vanilla pudding, dotted with gummy worms for effect.

Graveyard dirt chocolate cups with gummy wormsAnna Shepulova, Shutterstock

Seven-Layer Dip

Well, ideally it had seven layers. But speaking of parties, it really wasn’t one until your mom covered a plate in cream cheese (Philadelphia, naturally), jarred salsa, and some combination of toppings ranging from tomatoes to beans to shredded cheese. While seven-layer dip is still around—after all, there are Super Bowls every year—it doesn’t get enough due for its crowd-pleasing skills.

Seven layer dip in individual cupsElena Veselova, Shutterstock

Chicken Caesar Salad

Another “diet” adjacent food that wasn’t actually diet, chicken Caesar salad was all the rage in the 1990s. After all, it was the decade of the “big salad,” and adding the grilled chicken atop the Caesar salad really made it a complete meal.

And then, chefs expanded on perfection when they introduced us to the chicken Caesar wrap—an item that, in our opinion, should be on every restaurant menu.

Close-up Photo of Caesar salad with chickenKake, Flickr

Gazpacho

“What do you mean, it’s cold?” was the refrain heard ‘round the world during the heyday of gazpacho as a trendy food item. No summertime dinner party was completely without a gazpacho starter—but all too often, it came in its chunkiest form in the 1990s.

For an updated version for summer 2024, try blending and double-straining your favorite gazpacho recipe for a silky-smooth blast from the past.

Close-up Photo of Gazpacho in white bowlClay Newton, CC BY-SA 2.0,Wikimedia Commons

Molten Chocolate Cake

RIP molten chocolate cake—you would’ve loved Instagram reels. All jokes aside, the dessert that dominated dessert menus in the late 1990s would’ve thrived in the age of social media. Imagine all the videos that would be taken of a spoon cutting into the oozing center of a molten chocolate cake if it were to come back in style. ASMR for chocoholics!

Close-up Photo of Molten Chocolate Cake on a white plateRiyadh Al Balushi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Craisins

Coming hot on the heels of the popularity of cranberry juice blends in the 1990s were dried cranberries, which studded muffins, scones, and granola, and topped salads of all kinds. Ocean Spray, the cranberry people, decided on the name “Craisins,” touting them as a snack all on their own. I’d still put them in my salad or granola, TBH.

Close-up Photo of Craisins on a bowlskevbo, Flickr

Cosmopolitans

By the late 1990s, and the “martini trend” was in full-swing—even if what most people were drinking weren’t martinis in the strictest sense, more sugary mixed drinks in martini glasses. Reigning supreme among the lychee martinis and appletinis was the Cosmopolitan, further popularized by that one HBO show starring Kim Cattrall and a couple other ladies.

Close-up Photo of Cosmopolitan CocktailRalph Daily, Flickr

Yogurt (When It Was Runny)

Alright. Yogurt has obviously never left the fridge of many people—but while thick, protein-rich varieties like Greek yogurt and Skyr dominate the market today, yogurt in the 1990s was thin, runny, and honestly probably only two degrees of viscosity away from being a beverage.

Nowadays, I could turn my bowl of yogurt upside-down with the spoon in it, like it’s a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Close-up Photo of yogurt and spoonLarry Jacobsen, Flickr

BBQ Chicken Pizza

The rise of “unusual” pizza toppings in the 1990s brought us the BBQ chicken pizza—spread thick with sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, diced chicken, and a blend of cheeses (because nothing says 90s like “three-cheese” or “four-cheese blend”).

Close-up Photo of BBQ Chicken Pizza on a white plateCole Kennedy, Flickr

Broccoli With White Cheese Sauce

Broccoli got weirdly political in the 1990s after former POTUS George HW Bush made an offhand comment highlighting his dislike of the cruciferous vegetable. It caused backlash among broccoli farmers, and just happened to coincide with 90s parents searching for ways to get their kids to eat healthier.

Enter: broccoli with white cheese sauce. Because hey, if they’re going to eat a ton of cheese anyway, you might as well smother a green vegetable with it.

Close-up Photo of White plate of delicious broccoli with cheese creamAfrica Studio, Shutterstock

Dolphin-Safe Tuna

Speaking of politically-tinged incidents, when a series of videos emerged showing dolphins getting maimed in the process of yellowfina tuna fishing, the tinned fish became a hot-button issue, and there was even a widespread boycott of the product. In response, tuna producers began to label their products as “dolphin-safe”.

Close-up Photo of Tuna CanEric L, Flickr

Salsa

In 1992, salsa unseated ketchup as the most popular condiment in America. It was a long time coming and had been a steady climb over the years for the condiment to outsell its tomato-based cousin. It popped up in the grocery store with smooth and chunky offerings, and on restaurant menus as “exotic” fruit salsas made with things like mango and pineapple.

Close-up Photo of Mango Salsa in orange bowlmy_amii, Flickr

Crystal Pepsi

It wouldn’t be a list about 1990s food trends without including Crystal Pepsi, the ill-fated clear soda that lasted from 1992 to 1994. The Crystal version removed caramel coloring, which was said to result in a less-acidic taste.

Close-up Photo of Crystal Pepsi Bottles on a market rackMike Mozart, Flickr

Tableside Guac

Sure, guacamole has never really gone away, but in the 1990s, getting guacamole made tableside was one of the highlights of dining out. Though some places still offer it, it’s not as common. Strangely enough, though it’s not offered at all US locations of Margaritaville, it is common in the Mexican locations.

Close-up Photo of Tableside Guacamole on a bowlBoca Dorada, Flickr

Hot Pockets

Microwave convenience foods leveled up in the 1990s with offerings like Hot Pockets. Though they’re more like a calzone than a pizza, and they were always too hot and dry on the edges and cold in the center, they cemented their place in the hearts of a generation throughout the 90s.

Close-up Photo of Hot Pockets Ham and Cheese SandwichesMike Mozart, Flickr

Toaster Strudel

The Toaster Strudel came about in the same era as the Hot Pocket, but frankly, tasted way better. It began as a counterpart to the ever-beloved Pop Tart, but had something else that set it apart—the icing packet. Instead of dried, glued-on icing, you had fresh gooey icing that you could customize the amount of.

Though Pop Tarts had more variety in terms of flavors, Toaster Strudels were of a far higher quality.

Close-up Photo of Pumpkin Spice, Pie Pillsbury Toaster StrudelMike Mozart, Flickr

Cappuccino (And Biscotti)

In the 1990s, as upscale coffee houses sprang up, different espresso-based drinks left their mark and found new audiences—and the cappuccino had its moment in the sun. Nothing felt more trendy than sitting somewhere with brown walls and brown furniture and having a cappuccino in a big, wide, brown mug.

Honestly, the ultimate 1990s flavor combo might be a stale biscotti dunked in a poorly-made espresso topped with scorched milk.

Close-up Photo of Cappuccino and biscotti placed on a tableGourmandise, Flickr

Baked Brie

French cheeses like Brie and Camembert were already considered the height of chic in the 1990s—but there was just one problem. Thanks to laws surrounding unpasteurized milk in the US, traditional soft cheeses couldn’t be sold. As a result, most Bries and Camemberts were made with stabilized pastes, which meant they weren’t as ooey-gooey as they were elsewhere.

The solution? Melt ‘em, of course. And thus, baked Brie was born.

Close-up Photo of  baked brie appetizer on a white plateMark H. Anbinder, Flickr

Lunchables

No matter what kind of sandwich your mom packed for you as a kid in the 1990s, you’d be instantly jealous if another kid pulled out a pack of Lunchables in the cafeteria. That mentality persists to this day—it’s no wonder charcuteries boards are so popular.

Close-up Photo of person holding Lunchables BreakfastMike Mozart, Flickr

Seared Tuna Steaks

Were you really a trendy restaurant in the 1990s if you were serving some kind of seared tuna steak? Often served rare with a sesame or pepper crust, this ultra-trendy dish made its home on many a menu.

Seared tuna steak with salsa verde and steamed Jersey Royal new potatoes and runner beansRichard Gaywood, Flickr

Cosmic Brownies

Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies seem like the kind of thing that would’ve been around since the space craze of the 1960s, but they actually have an even funnier origin story. They were invented in response to the popularity of “cosmic bowling”…AKA, bowling under blacklights. Who knew?

Close-up Photo of Little Debbie's Cosmic BrowniesScorpions and Centaurs, Flickr

Sunny Delight

Sunny Delight began in the 1960s, but in 1989, it was purchased by Proctor & Gamble—priming it to be a huge 1990s hit. The secret to success? Many parents mistook it for orange juice, and thought it might work as a potential serving of fruit. Nope. It was just sugar, water, and less than 2% concentrated juices.

Luckily, it had enough added vitamin C that it at least had some health benefits.

Close-up Photo of Sunny D, Delight Drink on a market rackMike Mozart, Flickr

Sizzling Fajitas

It’s no wonder that children of the 80s and 90s act so desperate for attention online—they grew up with the dopamine hit that you got from ordering sizzling fajitas to your table at a restaurant. How many waiters burned their hands on those cast iron plates? We’ll never know.

The steak was usually overdone and the peppers were undercooked. There were too many tortillas and never enough shredded cheese. But still: It was an experience.

Close-up Photo of Sizzling Fajitas placed on a wooden boardsea turtle, Flickr

Zima

Before White Claw and other carbonated seltzers made their way to our shelves, there was Zima—an attempt to cater to drinkers who wanted an alternative to beer. It was part of the same trend of “clear” drink as Crystal Pepsi, and was made by Coors with a malt base and a citrus flavor.

Popular with women, it was also lampooned for being a “girly-man” drink by comedians like David Letterman—and really, what’s more 90s than that?

Close-up Photo of Zima alcoholic beverage on a fridge rackAdam Lederer, Flickr

Chinese Chicken Salad

Like the chicken Caesar that gained popularity at the same time, the Chinese chicken salad was another 90s hit boosted by the very era-specific idea that if you called it a salad, it must be healthy. Instead, this fusion dish, which had its roots in 1960s California, featured the typical ingredients of a garden salad, alongside chicken, fried bits (often wonton skins), nuts, and a dressing featuring ingredients like sesame oil and rice vinegar.

Close-up Photo of Cchinese Chicken salad on a white bowlStudio Sarah Lou, Flickr

Stuffed Crust Pizza

Perhaps no TV ad in the 1990s was as mind-blowing as the very first commercials for Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Crust pizza, which came out in 1995. A whole generation of kids went to school the next day saying: “I didn’t know you could do that”! Most were dazzled by the TV spot that they don’t remember the other star of the ad: none other than future President Donald Trump.

Close-up Photo of Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Cheese Pizzachapstickaddict, Flickr

Bloomin’ Onion

Speaking of chain restaurant dishes that had families clamoring to go out for dinner, Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion had to be top 5 in the 1990s. It’s likely that Outback founder Tim Gannon came across the recipe while working at another restaurant, and made it the centrepiece of the chain’s menu when it went national in 1988.

Close-up Photo of Bloomin' Onion on a white plateHideyuki KAMON, Flickr

Fruitopia

When Coca-Cola saw Snapple rise to the #3 market spot in the 1990s, they knew they had to try to claw back a part of that market share. And so, they came out with Fruitopia—the essence of 1990s capitalist cynicism wearing a mask of 1960s idealism.

Flavors like Strawberry Passion Awareness, Tangerine Wavelength, and Citrus Consciousness were marketed to appeal to consumers already enmeshed in the neo-hippie aesthetic that was so popular in the 1990s.

Close-up Photo of Fruitopia bottle placed on a tablePhil Nelson, Flickr

Taco Salad

Is it a salad? No. Is it a taco? Also no. Regardless, the novelty of a bowl made of tortilla was too strong for consumers in the 1990s to resist, and the taco salad was a popular mainstay in Tex-Mex restaurants across the US.

Close-up Photo of Taco Salad Bowl on a white plateJLS Photography - Alaska, Flickr

Chicken Pot Pie

All things “creamy” and “chicken” were popular across the 90s—think fettuccine alfredo with grilled chicken. But there was something about chicken pot pie that satisfied even the pickiest of eaters. Probably the fact that you could eat around the mushrooms or peas if you so desired.

Close-up Photo of Chicken Pot Pie on a plateBob Cotter, Flickr


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