What do you know about frosting?
You probably know intuitively that royal frosting is really dense, and meringues are lighter and fluffier, even if you don’t know the exact terms or science behind it. Royal icing and buttercream are good for cookies, buttercream and meringues are good for cakes.
The trick is adding air. More air usually means a lighter, fluffier frosting. But trapped air in frosting is white, which makes decorating cakes with a dark frosting that’s not mason’s mortar is hard. Food dyes have a flavor, so adding more to get to a certain color is trading appearance for taste; even the best gel food dyes struggle to achieve a passable red in buttercream. What is a home chef to do?
One TikToker, Sugarologie, had discovered a hack: by blending the frosting, she was able to improve the color. Many dyes are not fat-soluble, so the butter in a buttercream was actively impeding the dye’s saturation powers; by blending it, she was introducing more of the dye to the water in the butter/sugar mixture. But don’t forget: air has a color too!
Air bubbles catch and diffract light. If you look at how hard candy manufacturers make the color white (Lofty Pursuits on Youtube has plenty of good examples of this process), you’ll see that what they’re doing is using their hook to catch air bubbles inside of the translucent, slightly golden molten sugar to turn it white. This also noticeably increases the volume of the sugar wad they’re working with, because added pockets of air add volume.
By blending the frosting, Sugarologie was able to improve the color distribution in the frosting, but in doing so decreased the air in the recipe. That effect also made it darker, but it made the frosting denser too. Users noticed (one large Youtuber known as Ann Reardon made a video demonstrating the problem), but Sugarologie clarified that re-whipping the frosting was easy… and users were still having problems recreating her results. She didn’t include enough detail the first time around, and by leaving out that A) yes, the frosting gets denser and B) only certain frostings can tolerate this treatment, she’d accidentally created a minidrama between her and the people trying things as she described them in the initial video. Ann couldn’t recreate her results because she was using her own preferred frosting recipe. Neither one of them was making fake or bad content – this misunderstanding of where the technique works was creating the difference.
Why not clarify in the first video? Why react as though all of this was obvious when those people testing showed it clearly wasn’t?
I used to watch a show called “Chopped” on Food Network. You may be familiar with the premise – four contestants have a sum of 80 minutes to make a three course meal, including strange ingredients picked out beforehand. Chef Smartypants (who is still active online to this day!) lost her first round. But, the general air I got was that she was more a scholar of food, and a timed challenge like Chopped was not the right environment for her expertise to shine. There was no “they judged me wrong”. She was still confident in her skill. She is skilled!
Outside of going to a pastry or cooking school, there’s basically no real requirement that you need to meet in order to call yourself a chef, or a baker (outside of SafeServ). To demonstrate skill is to prove you’re worth listening to for tips and tricks. It’s what separates you from the thousands of channels freebooting content or putting out useless garbage. Admitting that one trick is not a universal is not the end of the world, but it does feel like a direct threat to one’s credibility in the moment. Those tips and tricks are what give people reason to listen at all. If a user is dismissed as making low-quality hacks, then suddenly people are less inclined to watch. This need for clicks necessitates being right (or looking right) at least most of the time.
Clicks And Money
What do you know about oats? They’re a crop. They’re often sprayed with pesticides to keep bugs from eating them before harvest, as are most crops in the US. A lot of US commercial bug sprays contain glyphosate, a potential carcinogen. Reading that, you’re probably thinking you should stop eating oats, or at least switch to organic, right? Well – experts disagree, and there’s money in arguing. Organic farms have a financial incentive to push their more expensive but glyphosate-free oats, and non-organic farms using glyphosate pesticides are obviously invested in their customers believing their product is safe to eat. Outside of the farmers, regulatory bodies themselves have placed glyphosates into different carcinogen risk categories: https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-018-0184-7 , largely because one is measuring exposure via food and the other is measuring exposure via food, spraying, and other sources. The FDA in the U.S suggests that there is a safe amount of glyphosate when it comes to harvested crops (https://www.fda.gov/food/pesticides/questions-and-answers-glyphosate), but to trust that, you have to trust the FDA, and not everyone does!
This is one food. One specific crop. If you don’t trust the FDA or American farmers (and after the last salmonella outbreak, it’s tough to trust blindly) then you’ve got to do this for everything you’re eating and compare research, and then from there decide what level of risk you, personally, are comfortable with. That’s exhausting, but nobody wants salmonella. This creates a demand for experts who can condense the complexities of the US food system into a short clip or article that gives you the info you need to know to make an informed decision.
The problem is that some “experts” are interested in that demand, and don’t have the necessary background or research skills to give advice or condense articles. Because they lack the background, they give advice that’s contradictory, or overly strict, or otherwise out of line with what the real experts recommend. Real dieticians then have to debunk the idea that oats are poison, or that candy bars are poison, or that the human body only really needs celery or raw meat or whichever diet the other guy subscribes to in order to function.
One expert says that eating non-organic foods is bad for you. Another one disagrees, and suggests you just wash fresh produce before you eat it. One expert paces up and down the aisles, pointing to the added sugar content of foods to tell you it will actively harm you. Another one disagrees, and asks you to look at the sugar content of the food you eat over the course of the day as a whole.
To one, a candy bar is fatal. To another, a candy bar can be a part of what you eat in a day so long as it’s not the only thing you eat. To one, raw meat is the only food you need. To another, you’re a human, not a lion or a wolf or a cat.
The only way a lot of people can emulate what they see on screen, sometimes from these “experts” themselves, is disordered eating. Orthorexia and anorexia have spiked in recent years (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7114025/), and this trend of TikTok “dieticians” suggesting that most food is poison takes advantage of that. Body dysmorphia is a very tricky illness to treat: the person suffering from it may lean into destructive habits because it’s easier than trying to recover, even when being treated. If they happen upon a TikTok from an “expert” “dietician” telling them that they actually should only need 800 calories a day, it can justify the complex structure of thoughts slowly killing them. After all, they’re listening to an expert. Right?
This need for clicks goes from petty arguing and misunderstandings to actively harmful. When attention is the currency, misinformation that reconfirms biases confidently is what rises to the top.