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Taste the rainbow: Why (healthy) “unicorn food” is everywhere


unicorn food Pin It
Photo: Adeline Waugh, [email protected]

This week on The Plus Factor, we’re exploring why rainbow-colored “unicorn” food has taken over everything from healthy Instagram feed to the menus of buzzy wellness-centric cafes.

Despite what certain (abnormal) weather conditions may have you thinking, there’s still a long way to go until spring—meaning that flowers, sunshine, and outdoor runs are anything but a given. As if the weather wasn’t ominous enough, the political climate has been, well, stormy. But somewhere over the rainbow, there’s an explosion of magic and happiness and colors…because (healthy) unicorn food is officially trending.

You’ve likely seen this very-real cuisine popping up in your Instagram feed, whether it’s in the form of a blue algae latte, a slice of (superfood-accented) toast, or tall glass of inflammation-fighting plant-based milk.

“With so much going on in the world, sometimes you want to look at something uncomplicated and joyful, like colored food.”

The genesis of this latest wellness obsession is anything but mythical. Photographer and stylist Adeline Waugh (better known as Vibrant & Pure) was one of the first to experiment with making healthy, plant-based unicorn food, posting pastel-coated toast on her website and Instagram. “The thing I love about it is how organically it came to be,” she says. “I never set out to create a trend.”

Unicorns of yore may have noshed on sugar and Lucky Charms, but Waugh made over their diet with cream cheese dyed with hot beet juice (for pink), turmeric (yellow), chlorophyll drops (green), spirulina powder (light blue), freeze dried blueberry powder (purple), and a power duo of beet juice and freeze dried strawberry for light pink.

Waugh explains that she was playing around in her kitchen trying to figure out how to make hot pink cream cheese—as you do—and she just blended them together so they looked like paint-brush strokes. “I called the colorful toast ‘watercolor’ in my caption, and my friends on Instagram quickly dubbed it ‘unicorn toast’ as the combination of the pastel hues clearly resembles that of a unicorn’s mane,” she recalls.

unicorn toast
Photo: Adeline Waugh

If Waugh is the godmother of unicorn food, The End Brooklyn owners Madeleine Murphy and Bret Caretsky are responsible for the sudden takeover of the unicorn drink—AKA blue algae lattes topped off with sprinkles. The Williamsburg cafe, which opened earlier this winter, is ground zero for nutrient-dense rainbow drinking. “[Blue algae] truly defines ‘plant magic’, as it helps with detoxification and rejuvenation,” Murphy says.

Of course, it takes a little bit of magic to make something that you’ll not only want to snap photos of—but also sip on: “[Blue algae] doesn’t always taste great and can also sound intimidating,” she admits. “Our goal was to bring it to the world in a whimsical and playful form—and so the unicorn latte was born.”

unicorn latte
Photo: The End Brooklyn

As for that name? According to Murphy, they opted for it because, besides the obvious visual cues, there’s something super-symbolic about the animal. “Unicorns are a majestic, mystical archetype that represents peace, joy, and opening up to the infinite possibilities inside of you,” she says.

It might sound magical, but according to Waugh, there’s a very good reason why this sunshine-y trend is happening right now. “With so much going on in the world, sometimes you want to look at something uncomplicated and joyful, like colored food,” she says. “People are just happy to look at something bright and colorful—it’s as simple as that!”

Obviously unicorn food is meant to be Instagrammed—which has its own wellness benefits, by the way. Besides, you should always be eating food that makes you happy.