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Feb. 4, 2022 12:00 PM PST

I’m a food artist and made my eggs into cubes today,” says the robotic British voice-over narrating TikTok sensation David Ma’s recent cooking video. “Let’s look inside!” Over the thrumming beat of Awolnation’s “Sail,” a slicer slowly segments an egg, unveiling—gasp!—a yolk in the shape of a square, a climax befitting a Hitchcock murder mystery reveal.

From the original viral sensation of “carrot bacon” to the rice bowl with 80 million views, experimental food videos have become a standard ingredient in many users’ TikTok diets. Whether they are mocked, critically reviewed or intellectually analyzed, they’re a constant topic of Internet conversation. The trend is even transcending the digital to move into the IRL world. In December, TikTok and Virtual Dining Concepts announced a new collaboration that would bring 1,000 “TikTok kitchens” to U.S cities this year. The kitchens will reportedly serve the platform’s most viral delicacies.

But what—beyond the millions of likes—makes #FoodTok virality what it is? How does a short clip rise to cult status, finding you on Instagram, landing mentions on morning shows, and leading to book deals and product lines for the food’s creators? And what happens if and when these viral foods materialize on our plates—can TikTok food live up to the hype? We asked a couple of filmmakers, a media scholar, a neuroscientist and a few seasoned creators to explain what makes FoodTok so watchable.

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