2014’s Most Awesome Junk Foods

It happens pretty regularly: some item of junk food does its damndest to rehabilitate its reputation from a trashy indulgence into something more sophisticated and upscale. Look at the humble donut and witness its epic PR in 2013, when it was cross-bread (pun!) with a croissant to become the haut pastry Cronut. The cronut and other attempts at rebranding, like the dark chocolate Milky Way, are a little like putting lipstick on a pig. Still, people give it their best shot; here are a few of the stranger ones from 2014.

Some apparently beleaguered execs at Frito-Lay decided their chips needed a boost — something new and innovative, something beyond the status of mere salty snack treat. Instead of doing some actual research and experimentation, they decided to let the public do their job for them and started the “Do Us a Flavor” campaign in which we, the consumers, suggested new flavors. There were four frontrunners: “Mango Salsa,” “Cheddar-Bacon Mac & Cheese,” “Cappuccino,” and “Wasabi Ginger.” After foisting these flavors on the public and asking them to choose which was best, “Wasabi Ginger” emerged victorious, but it seems like a pretty dubious win for everyone involved.

This was an inexplicably popular thing in 2014, and a simple Google search on the topic turns up some 15 million results. Dessert pizza takes pizza dough and covers it with a whole lot of dessert-type toppings before giving it a go in a hot oven. The Food Network’s Dessert Pizza section boasts almost 60 recipes, including Giada De Laurentiis’s Chocolate Pizza and Guy Fierie’s S’More Pizza.

You never knew anything was wrong with regular ice cream, did you? Fortunately for all of us someone in San Francisco realized how dėclassė pre-manufactured ice cream is and introduced a solution. With a few select ingredients and a bunch of liquid nitrogen, custom-made ice cream is yours in just one minute. This appeals to those who love artisanal, small batch goods, and enthusiasts swear that the texture is unsurpassed. Interestingly, effusive praise of that sort is applied to just about every single trendy food out there.

If you don’t love eclairs, you’re the type of person who doesn’t get invited to social events and whose phone never rings. A good éclair is a thing of beauty, precisely because it’s a perfect three-way flavor balance between a good, rich custard, slightly bitter chocolate, and buttery pastry. Obviously, good ingredients will yield better results, but then someone inevitably goes a few steps too far. Now, many shops sell a much more expensive version of the éclair, with Madagascar vanilla in the cream, perfectly sleek and contoured pastry, dazzlingly pricey chocolate, and even edible powdered silver.

Eager to cash in on the fast food breakfast market, Taco Bell spent two years and many millions of dollars creating the Waffle Taco, which twists a waffle into a taco shape, fills it with sausage and eggs, and serves it with a side of high-fructose-laden imitation maple syrup. It actually did pretty well for them, too, presumably because consumers were able to single-fist breakfast on the go.

If you’re a fan of ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg this was really your year. This complex of spices, often present in a compound referred to as pumpkin spice (as in, the spices flavoring pumpkin pie), was added to pretty much everything you could possibly think of in 2014: Jello, marshmallows, Hershey’s Kisses, cream cheese, English muffins, Kahlua, Oreos, and chewing gum. There was, in fact, almost nothing edible that someone somewhere didn’t amp up with a pinch of pumpkin spice. Mercifully, this onslaught of down-home flavor came upon us for just the fall months before going away again.

A food mash-up mates at least two seemingly disparate foodstuffs into a whole that transcends the sum of its parts. At least in theory. Mash-ups range from the relatively benign-peanut butter and pretzel Blizzards at Dairy Queen, for example, to the curious — a hamburger served between two cakes of pressed, grilled ramen noodles, to the ghastly — Cheetos macarons, fried chicken between two macaroni and cheese pancakes, or a sausage and mashed potato milkshake.

Desperate to ride on the Cronut’s coattails, a few enterprising bakers decided to take a lump of croissant dough, form it into a bagel shape, boil it, and finish it with a quick bake in the oven. The result is the cragel, which actually did prove to be immensely popular with consumers. The first cragels were produced in Brooklyn’s Bagel Store, but before long many others got in on the action and they can be easily found all over the country.

Energy bars have been an enduring market favorite, moving out of stores at the rate of a billion dollars per year. In 2014, sales hit an all-time high. One niche of that mammoth load of bars was the alternative energy bar like the Amazing Grass Organic Vegan Berry Whole Food Energy Bar — made with plenty of dried fruits and Organic Wheat Grass, Organic Barley Grass, and Organic Alfalfa. Another bar that was increasingly popular (although we’re grading on a curve here) is the Chapul Cricket Bar, available in three flavors, and made primarily with ground up crickets. These might be a tough sell in the United States, but around the world, two billion people consume insects regularly. The Chapul manufacturers may be right in thinking that the Cricket Bar’s day is coming.