If you have even a passing interest in food and an internet connection, you have probably heard of tomato feta pasta, four-ingredient bread or 15-hour potatoes. They are all recipes that went viral on TikTok, then made it into mainstream news feeds.
But there is a lot more to #TikTokFood (a hashtag that has garnered TikTok more than 25 billion views) than recipes. Indeed, much of the food content on TikTok isn’t full recipes at all: it is what are known as hacks.
A food hack, like its more commonly known grandparent, the life hack, is a sort of shortcut that makes a cumbersome job simpler, or allows you to skip a few steps in a lengthy process. A good hack makes your life easier, increases efficiency without affecting (or even while improving) the outcome, and generally gives you bragging rights.
A hack video is short, surprising and somewhat clickbait-y. TikTok users, with an average age of 18 to 24, love them.
* Air fryer pavlova, slow cooker bread, pie maker pancakes: One man’s quest to attempt 10 TikTok cooking hacks in a day
* 3-ingredient blueberry muffins from TikTok’s favorite grandma are a true delight
* Crunchy air fryer pasta chips are the new TikTok trend you need to try
Some hacks, I feel, are ultimately more about cleverness or trickery than ease. One popular TikTok egg hack, for example, encourages users to poach an egg by lining a bowl with plastic wrap, cracking an egg into the wrap, then – keeping the yolk intact, mind you – gathering the edges of the plastic, twisting them closed , then dropping the whole thing in simmering water. I can’t see how that is possibly any easier than cracking an egg directly into a pan, but it does look cuter.
Boiling pasta directly in cream sauce is another such hack. According to some TikTok users, it saves time and improves flavour, but you would need to start with a lot of sauce, which will reduce down drastically in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
That is a fair chunk of change going up in smoke (and it will change the flavor and texture of the sauce) and, assuming you have at least two burners and can cook pasta and sauce at the same time, all this “hack” saves is the time it takes you fill a pot with water, then drain it when the pasta is cooked.
Then there are the hacks that aren’t really hacks at all. TikTok users, for example, have gone crazy over the tip to pour a little olive oil into pasta water to avoid clumping – something Italians have been doing for centuries.
And there are some hacks that just sound awful.
No thank you, TikTok, I do not want to coat my cheese sandwich in mayonnaise before grilling it. Nor do I want to eat a cereal made of pancakes; a pickle wrapped in bacon or a Snickers bar wrapped in a pickle or, really, anything involving pickles and wrapping.
But there are some TikTok hacks that absolutely fulfilled our hack criteria: they make a chore easier, are themselves simple and deliver you something tasty.
Here are five of my favourites.
Coat your cups or spoons before measuring sticky ingredients
An example of a truly great hack, this one solves a niggly problem small enough that you probably haven’t gone out of your way to correct it yourself, but big enough that you will experience a rush of excitement when you realize it works, which it really does.
It’s simple. Your problem here is that when a baking recipe calls for something sticky such as honey or golden syrup, the ingredient sticks to the inside of the vessel you use to measure it. Baking quantities need to be exact, so you spend time and effort using a spatula to get the remainder out of the cup, then using a knife to scrape excess off the spoon. Annoying, right?
Well, you won’t be annoyed any more. This hack directs you to lightly coat the inside of the cup or spoon with some sort of oil (I use spray-on canola) before adding the sticky ingredient, allowing it to slide right out with practically none left behind.
Strip herbs using a box grater
You know when you get a handful of fresh herbs, then spend ages picking the leaves off the woody stems? This hack turns that into a 10-second process. All you need to do is take an ordinary grater, feed the stalks through one of the biggest holes (you will fit quite a few through one hole), then reach up and pull them out from the inside. Hey presto, or maybe pesto, only leaves remain.
Use dental floss to cut a cake
Yes, you read that right. I know it sounds ridiculous, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
Cakes – particularly the multi-layer, iced confections you might turn out for a big celebration – are tricky to cut cleanly with a knife. They have a tendency to take half the icing with them, collapse a cake of light texture, and generally get very messy.
You can buy fancy contraptions for cutting perfect slices of cake, but many of us would use one so rarely they are not worth buying.
But you might well have the solution to this problem in your bathroom cabinet. A length of dental floss a couple of centimeters longer than the cake on each side and pulled tightly across will do almost as good a job, and better than a knife.
Grate cold butter
Butter is a paradox. It has to be kept in the fridge to avoid going rancid, but almost every time you want to use butter – for baking, making a sandwich, or spreading on toast – it needs to be soft. That means taking it out of the fridge in time to soften (as all bakers know, trying to get butter soft but not melted in the microwave is a fraught business), and that is something we all forget to do.
Once again, your grater comes in handy here, though you will want the small side of a box grater or a microplane. It is then as easy as taking a block of cold butter and grating as much as you need. The friction of the action combined with the small pieces of butter make for a perfectly soft dairy product. This is a game-changer.
Remove wayward eggshell
TikTok is obsessed with egg hacks: ways to boil them, ways to separate them, anxiety-inducing ways to peel them – egg hacks take up a disproportionate amount of space on food TikTok, so I feel I must include one.
The hack I have chosen is the simplest on this list. It is, perhaps, one of the simplest on the platform but, in that sense, it is also the purest. It requires no extra equipment, nor really any skill.
It is a hack for removing errant pieces of eggshell after you have cracked the egg, suggesting that rather than fishing around with another piece of shell or a teaspoon or whatever, that you simply wet one of your own fingers under the tap then dab the piece of shell with your fingertip. It will remove the shell but won’t remove any egg. It is worth all the hours I have spent scrolling on TikTok.