The Carbon Footprint of Viral TikTok Recipes May Surprise You

A new study analyzes the carbon footprint of foods and drinks that are trending on TikTok.

Dalgona Coffee, a trendy fluffy creamy whipped coffee
Dalgona Coffee. Ana Rocio Garcia Franco / Getty Images

From mini pancake cereal and ramen lasagna to twisted bacon and whipped lemonade, social video-sharing platform TikTok has spawned a gluttony of viral food trends. Some of them are delicious; others, disgusting. Some of them are smart; others, silly. Some of them are functional; others, funny. And more than a few of them are just downright weird.

Just because your iron gut can handle TikTok’s creative food recommendations, however, doesn’t mean that the planet can: A new study analyzes the top foods and beverages on TikTok and finds that many of the most popular trending recipes have a significant carbon footprint.

Conducted by Uswitch, a United Kingdom-based website where users can compare and switch gas and electricity suppliers, the study was inspired by My Emissions—developer of a free, food-themed carbon footprint calculator—which claims food is responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, Uswitch decided to quantify the emissions associated with foodies’ favorite viral eats. To do so, it used the My Emissions calculator to analyze each ingredient in 72 trending recipes on TikTok.

The results can help you make food choices that please both the planet and your palate. For example, Uswitch found the foods with the highest emissions are cheeseburgers and mozzarella sticks. The former have 780.4 million views on TikTok and produce 5,768 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which is the equivalent of driving a car for over 14 miles. The latter has 12.6 million views on TikTok and produces 2,346 grams of CO2e.

Rounding out the topmost polluting foods are banana bread, which has 283.9 million views on TikTok and produces 2,332 grams of CO2e; macaroni and cheese, which has 1.3 billion views on TikTok and produces 2,060 grams of CO2e; and “TikTok feta pasta” that features feta cheese, tomatoes, olive oil, penne, and oregano, which has 1 billion views on TikTok, and produces 1,929 grams of CO2e.

Other notable offenders are hot chocolate bombs, which have 131.2 million views on TikTok and produce 1,858 grams of CO2e; the “TikTok breakfast sandwich” that includes cheddar cheese, bread, eggs, and butter, which has 169.1 million views on TikTok and produces 1,506 grams of CO2e; the aforementioned mini pancake cereal, which has 1.6 billion views on TikTok and produces 1,006 grams of CO2e; and “TikTok pesto eggs” that marry fried eggs with a couple of tablespoons of pesto, which have 220.4 million views on TikTok and produce 955 grams of CO2e.

But not all viral recipes are bad for the environment. In fact, some are just as sustainable as they are delicious, according to Uswitch, which says the TikTok food trend with the smallest carbon footprint is spicy pickled garlic, which has 215.7 million views on TikTok but produces only 83 grams of CO2e. That means you could make the recipe—marinating 16 garlic cloves with hot sauce, thyme, and chili flakes inside a mason jar—nearly five times before it had the same environmental impact as driving your car for a single mile, Uswitch points out.

After spicy pickled garlic, the most sustainable TikTok foods are corn ribs (basically long strips of air-fried corn), which have 11.7 million views on TikTok and produce 289 grams of CO2e; acai bowls, which have 215 million views on TikTok and produce 354 grams of CO2e; beetroot hummus, which has 84,500 views on TikTok and produces 375 grams of CO2e; and smashed Brussel’s sprouts, which have 227,600 views on TikTok and produce 428 grams of CO2e.

Even more eco-friendly eats are "TikTok pasta chips," which have 897.4 million views on TikTok and produce 468 grams of CO2e; three-ingredient crème brûlée made with vanilla ice cream, eggs, and sugar, which has 95.5 million views on TikTok and produces 564 grams of CO2e; and carb-free "cloud bread," which has 3.2 billion views on TikTok and produces 582 grams of CO2e.

Interestingly, Uswitch notes that of the 20 TikTok recipes that have the lowest carbon footprint, only two are meat-based. The rest are vegan. Of the 20 TikTok recipes that have the highest carbon footprint, on the other hand, nine are meat-based.

Uswitch also analyzed beverages. Those with the most carbon emissions—with 905, 686, 669, 528, and 493 grams of CO2e, respectively, are Dalgona (Korean) coffee, sangria, Long Island Iced Tea, Pimm’s, and piña colada. Those with the fewest carbon emissions—with 134, 169, 169, 170, 171, and 193 grams of CO2e, respectively, are almond milk flat white, negroni, daiquiri, martini, Prosecco, and margarita.

Of course, being on TikTok has nothing to do with a foods’ carbon footprint. Cheeseburgers, for example, would still produce the same emissions with or without a boost from social media. Going viral, however, can certainly amplify certain foods’ impact by making them more popular.

“The viral nature of, say, feta pasta does suggest that home cooks may have upped their carbon footprint in the last year or so,” observes author Lillian Stone at food website The Takeout. “The fact is that, if you’re making burgers and feta pasta every day, you’re going to increase your impact on the planet. This isn’t necessarily a TikTok-specific problem; rather, it’s an interesting way to think about our own cooking in general.”

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