in article about weird food combinations, a picture of mac and cheese ice cream

Crazy Food Combinations Are a Feast for Your Eyes and Stomach

Bored of vanilla or chocolate-flavored ice cream? Van Leeuwen has just the thing for your out-there food combinations, arriving again this summer for a limited time.
April 18, 2022
13 mins read

Picture this: It’s after midnight, and that snacking feeling comes up again. Rather than going to sleep hungry and irritable, you slap together a hodgepodge creation you wouldn’t dare to share in the light of day. But what if those crazy late-night cravings weren’t as unpopular as you’d think? Though the lists go on and on about everyone’s favorite weird snacks, the popularity of these “hybrid” foods is continuing to grow in the digital age. The appeal for obscure and mildly questionable food combinations seems to pop out of nowhere, in the same way as the trends that fuel the pairings.

Beyond the late-night munchies, why are crazy foods so popular? Van Leeuwen’s Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream is a favored flavor that prides itself on being equally strange and delicious. While certainly cheesy, Van Leeuwen’s ice cream is nothing to joke about. It’s the real deal, reminiscent of the beloved blue box that is synonymous with Kraft dinners.

Churning out desserts since 2008, Van Leeuwen has built a cult-like following from its abundance of different ice cream flavors. Their menu includes summertime staples like chocolate, vanilla, and cookies and cream, all made with the best possible ingredients the company can source. However, what put Van Leeuwen’s on the map of innovative icy treats were their funky flavors. Everything from hazelnut fudge cookie to pumpkin cheesecake packs a punch of flavor within the confines of a pint. Trendy tastes coupled with their feel-good ingredients, Van Leeuwen’s yields a sweet treat that is sure to satisfy and surprise every palate.

Take their latest creation into consideration: the limited-edition Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream flavor. This sweet and salty surprise dresses up the Van Leeuwen ice cream in an outfit that evokes nostalgia for the favorite blue box pasta. But where does the inspiration to combine a delicious macaroni dinner with cool ice cream come from? In the words of Van Leeuwen itself, the playful combo of two childhood favorites comes together so that all who are curious can “enjoy both, at the same time, in the same bowl.” The specific use of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in its dessert hits especially hard on the feel-good factor: The pasta brand’s recognizable colors and shapes transport the eater back to a “simpler” time, where 15 minutes and a pot was all it took to put a smile on one’s face. Bring that together with the oh-so-satisfying taste of ice cream, and you have a snack that’s perfect for summertime splendor.

According to Food Network, the “shockingly delicious” ice cream combination from Van Leeuwen is not only hitting supermarket shelves this summer, but the flavor is back after a limited edition run during summer 2021. The dessert dominated Van Leeuwen’s website and sold out within an hour of the pint’s debut, with the bar raised even higher for this coming summer. Something about the “buttery, sweet iconic cheese” of Kraft dinners with the equally satisfying Van Leeuwen’s ice cream, makes for a toothsome treat that fans couldn’t get enough of the first time around. Back and delicious as ever, the limited-edition ice cream pints will be spotted in Walmarts across the nation, easily identified by packaging in Kraft blue. While the “rich, satisfying and unexpectedly enjoyable” flavor will only be available for another short summer run, tasting it comes at a price: Be prepared to fork out a grand total of $12 per pint to sample a spoonful of the ice cream. But as Van Leeuwen continually strives “to make good ice cream that makes you feel good,” there’s little room for disappointment in this crazy cool dessert.

Beyond the bowl, the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream speaks to the rising demand for fun food combinations. It seems as if everyone wants to push the boundaries of what we define as “fun food,” and embellish that even more with the creativity at one’s fingertips. Food & Wine labels these wacky food combinations as “stunt products,” hailed for luring in the eyes and stomachs of all who are watching. Even in the case of Van Leeuwen’s cheesy, crowd-pleasing flavor, the product’s first campaign is described “as a promotional stunt by Kraft to honor National Macaroni and Cheese day.” But is this a gimmick, or are people genuinely interested in what foods like macaroni and cheese-flavored ice cream will taste like?

At its core, the idea of “weird” food combinations is not necessarily a “new” fad. Even if one thinks throwing together a snack at 2 a.m. is a strange, cabinet-fueled feat, it’s practically the birthplace for food “hybrids.” Stumbling upon the wonderfully strange carnival setting is a surefire example of how to “Frankenstein” new foods on a large scale. Traditional American snack staples like funnel cakes and corn dogs are mouthwatering carnival eats, but it’s the crazier culinary creations that come to life on the fairgrounds. Deep frying everything from watermelon to Oreos, and taste tests that lead to inventing the cotton candy taco, are just a handful of the food combinations that normalize this wild experimentation. The feeling of going to the fair is marked by heart-stopping indulgences and not-so-guilty pleasures, but the trends move on long after the carnival.

In an age of eating with your eyes as often as you do with utensils, the digital sharing of “good eats” online has affected the food combinations that result. It’s not enough for something to taste delicious anymore; drinks and snacks must reach the “Instagrammable” threshold in order to be deemed worthy in the social media sphere. In today’s media-centric world, it’s not uncommon for plates of food to be at the risk of becoming cold and stale for the perfect shot, one that will live on even when the meal is over. But at the same time, this “standard” social media practice pioneered the format for future food trends on Instagram. A quick glimpse into the last 10 years revealed that looks surprisingly do matter: From aesthetic photos of rainbow bagels to activated charcoal ice cream, these food combinations are praised for being delicious in person, and equally beautiful online.

Although technology seems like the last industry to influence the newest “trendy” food combinations that pop up each year, it does spark inspiration for culinary creatives. To know that customers will come for good eats when they also look or sound beyond the “average” meal, pushes the boundaries of what kinds of “revamping” can occur. The freakshake trend, for instance, offers the perfect example of how food combinations tie in with internet trends. Way back in 2016, the “freakshake” was shoved into the social media spotlight due to the outrageously new take on the sweet sip. These special milkshakes earned their “freakshake” title from over-the-top toppings that one wouldn’t think to put on the already-sweet treat. Piled high with “an Everest of whipped cream,” slices of cakes and enough sprinkles to satisfy a toddler, the eye-catching freakshake was a treat fit for Willy Wonka himself. Once pictures of the decadent dessert went viral, food lovers flocked to ice cream shops for a bite and a snapshot themselves.

However, how much media attention on the freakshake was for the taste? As The Guardian called out on the trend, “While they should taste good, the first bite is usually taken by the camera.” While some are excited to taste the dessert or snap the wild picture, it’s the principle of taking part in this trendy activity that makes it all worth it. The one thing that makes an experience like purchasing the freakshake more fulfilling than consuming it, is retelling that story for all to hear. In this case, posting those photos of the freakshake becomes just as important as slurping it up.

The same thing can be said for any food trend: No matter how clever a food hybrid is from a culinary perspective, the customer’s fun comes from jumping onto the bandwagon and “following” where the trend leads. When each trend fades, another one rises to continue the cycle. From the iconic Cronut to the short-lived mermaid toast, the influx of “hybrid” treats only live on when they are adored by an audience. Today, it’s almost impossible for new foods to not satisfy both eyes and stomach. With TikTok — and more specifically, “FoodTok” — trends showcasing innovative eats prove that there’s a performative aspect that gets roped into the food experience. Everything from salads eaten like dips to coffees literally “whipped” up overlaps the taste for hybrid foods with the tech appeal of trends. Only then do food combinations become fun because of the interactions they spark, and the communal feeling that comes with taking part in the trend. The actual food that results from these media moments is exactly like a condiment — purely extra and only used to enhance the experience if you want it.

It’s safe to say that the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream is no different than the slew of other food trends that have decorated plates and screens in the past. Though critics clearly fawn over the taste of this cheesy-in-a-good-way ice cream, much of the appeal still lies with the strangeness of the food combination. However, curating these wacky, yet drool-worthy creations is just as much about the customer as they are about the pint: One can’t help but be drawn to the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream because it was made with their brow-furrowing curiosity in mind. And who knows? Maybe this creativity within food trends does want to expose the inner, secret midnight snacking of us all. So go ahead and rummage away in the fridge — you might stumble upon the next great taste some might never know they needed.

Joy Young, Chapman University

Writer Profile

Joy Young

Chapman University
English Literature

Constantly searching for new inspiration, Joy strives to stay curious and expressive. Fueled by coffee and creation, she’s passionate about finding ways to write it down and share it around.

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