Video-sharing social media app TikTok is known for a lot of things: popularizing elaborate dances, creating some of the fastest-paced memes of all time, being the “gentrified” successor of Vine. More recently, it’s been embroiled in controversy over whether it’s a piece of spyware controlled by the Chinese government that could be bought by Microsoft or Oracle, or end up banned in the United States. So keep that all in mind if you’re thinking of getting the app.

But alas, it continues to be one of the most downloaded apps of 2020 and a behemoth of information sharing for people around the world.

TikTok hosts a variety of smaller niches, including a robust food community, that shares recipes, food hacks and beautiful cooking creations. Several of the viral recipes circulating around the app looked so intriguing that we decided to test them out. Here’s our verdict on things like vegan “bacon,” pancake cereal, five-ingredient cookies and cauliflower wings.

(You can download the full recipes here.)

Worth the hype? From Dalgona coffee to focaccia, we evaluated 5 recipes trending on Instagram

Vegan bacon

Vegan bacon is made from shaved carrots soaked in a simple marinade. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)
Vegan bacon is made from shaved carrots soaked in a simple marinade. (Amy Wong / The Seattle Times)

I found this recipe by vegan queen Tabitha Brown, but thought to myself, “Psh, there’s no way you can make carrots taste different.” But of course I was intrigued, because who wouldn’t want a bacon alternative that they can eat pounds of without worrying about how it is one of the unhealthiest foods out there? Brown’s video didn’t include exact measurements, but I found a few recipes online that did. Vegan bacon is comprised of shaved carrots marinated in a mixture of liquid smoke, maple syrup, soy sauce and spices, then air-fried.

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Worth the hype?

Surprisingly yes! I wouldn’t say that it tastes exactly like bacon, but it was enjoyable. There’s a fine line between getting the carrot to maximum crispiness without burning it, but if you get it there, you have a flavorful, smoky, crunchy snack. The best part is that you can eat a whole plate of it pretty guilt-free, since you’re essentially eating seasoned vegetables. I’d recommend putting this vegan bacon in something else (a sandwich, salad, etc.); the smokiness acts as a good complementary flavor.

— Amy Wong

5-ingredient gluten-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

Yes, you can make delicious gluten-free cookies that don’t taste like cardboard. And you can do it with just five ingredients. These chocolate chip peanut butter cookies are testament to that!  (Stefanie Loh / The Seattle Times)
Yes, you can make delicious gluten-free cookies that don’t taste like cardboard. And you can do it with just five ingredients. These chocolate chip peanut butter cookies are testament to that! (Stefanie Loh / The Seattle Times)

At first glance, this seemed too good to be true on multiple fronts. Make cookies with just a cup of brown sugar, a cup of peanut butter, an egg, a teaspoon of baking soda and a half-cup of chocolate chips? Whhhhhattt? And use those ingredients to make GOOD gluten-free cookies that are edible and don’t taste like cardboard? No way.

Skeptically, I enlisted the baker and gluten-free member of my household — my wife — to find out just how much of an exaggeration (read: lie) this was.

Worth the hype?

Joke’s on me, folks! I’m happy to report that you can indeed make delicious gluten free cookies as prescribed in the five-ingredient recipe popularized on TikTok, and laid out here by food blogger Chelsweets.

But can you blame me for being a doubter? Even my scientist and baker wife remarked as we slid the cookies into the oven — 350 degrees F, 10 minutes — “I’m not sure what’s gonna hold these cookies together. Peanut butter melts.”

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The answer? Magic, apparently. Because minutes later, a deliciously nutty, chocolaty scent wafted up to my nostrils when I cracked open the oven. It smelled so fragrant that even our peanut butter-loving dog came over to have a look. Mounds of puffy cookies dotted with melty chocolate chips greeted me when I pulled out the cookie sheet. Five minutes of cooling time later, I eagerly picked one up and took a tentative bite. It was beautiful. Gooey, nutty and oh-so-chocolaty, soft and warm with a just-crisped top. The PB and sugar combined to caramelize into a very light top crust, with a sticky, almost toffeelike texture below.

Our only suggestion: They’re a touch sweet, so if you’re not into that, cut back on the sugar.

— Stefanie Loh

Pancake cereal

Pancake cereal is essentially just a bowl of tiny pancakes. (Stephanie Hays / The Seattle Times)
Pancake cereal is essentially just a bowl of tiny pancakes. (Stephanie Hays / The Seattle Times)

The TikToks of people making pancake cereal are deceptively simple. Take essentially any pancake recipe (I used one in an old Good Housekeeping cookbook), place batter into a gallon-sized bag and pipe teeny-tiny pancakes into a pan. Once they’ve cooked, scoop them up, put them in a bowl and top with a pat of butter and some syrup. If you want to really lean into the cereal aspect, add some milk.

But some skill and planning is required that isn’t immediately obvious in the videos. First off, piping pancake batter out of a gallon-sized bag is not easy. It drips everywhere, making it difficult to make perfect little circles. It also comes out fast, so your hand needs to be moving quickly across the pan.

Worth the hype?

Kind of? The bowl of cereal is adorable, and great for TikTok, Instagram or any place you want to post your food pictures. And since they are still pancakes, they are still tasty when tiny.

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The main problem is that it’s too time-consuming to want to do regularly. Cooking a batch of pancakes normally takes around 10 minutes, but it took me at least a half-hour, if not more, to get one bowl of cereal. And I still had a half-batch of pancake batter left over. So as a one-off for a fun food photo? It’s perfect. But I’d rather eat my pancakes as fast as possible, so I’ll stick with regular-sized ones.

— Stephanie Hays

Cauliflower wings

Buffalo cauliflower wings might not taste like chicken, but are still a tasty treat. (Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)
Buffalo cauliflower wings might not taste like chicken, but are still a tasty treat. (Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)

For many vegan and vegan-aware Seattleites, “cauliflower wings” are nothing new. Spots like Life on Mars have been serving them up as an alternative to chicken wings for a while. On TikTok, recipes for “cauliflower wings” and “buffalo cauliflower” have taken over my #foryoupage, and after watching about 50 different versions, I’ve finally accepted that they are the same thing. To try out the viral recipe, I made a batter of flour, soy milk and some spices, tossed the florets from one head of cauliflower in it, and cooked them at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes. Then I poured a mixture of buffalo sauce and a few tablespoons of melted butter over the cauliflower, and threw them back in the oven for an additional 20 minutes. I wanted to lean into the whole “wings” bit, so I served them with celery and carrot sticks.

Worth the hype?

Yes!!! These were such a fun and tasty snack. I kept reaching for more, until the plate just had celery and carrot sticks left. While this recipe is a nice way to enjoy the flavor of buffalo sauce, I think cauliflower “wings” might be a stretch. If you take a bite thinking it’s going to taste like chicken, you’re going to be disappointed. Or at least confused. This recipe isn’t a magic trick that makes cauliflower taste like chicken, but it is a delicious snack that was pretty easy to throw together.

— Anika Varty