Whether it’s a cheat day or you’re having cravings that just won’t leave you alone, sometimes a little junk food goes a long way. From salty chips to sweet, chocolatey goodness, everyone’s got their favorite junk food stashed away for a rainy day. Want some ideas for your next cheat day? Here are the Top 10 Iconic Junk Foods.
10. Cheese Puffs
Ah, cheese puffs, making our fingers turn orange since the 1930s. There are many varieties of this snack – cheese puffs, cheese curls, cheese balls, or even corn curls – but the spirit of these goodies stays the same. These puffed-up corn snacks are coated with a mixture of cheese or cheese-flavored powders, which is what gives us the orange fingers. These cheesy puffs of yumminess are often made fun of for their lack of nutritional value, and they traditionally symbolize a lack of concern for one’s health. That being said, it seems as though we can’t get enough of them. These puffy snacks are so iconic that pop culture parodies have sprung up on film and tv. In South Park, a fictitious brand of cheese puffs called “Cheesy Poofs” appears periodically. In the 2014 film Penguins of Madagascar, “Cheezy Dibbles” is a running joke. And then there is of course Sabor de Soledad, which translates to Taste of Loneliness, which Liz Lecom eats despairingly in the hit show 30 Rock. While there are several companies who produce these cheesy balls of goodness, the most famous one of all is Cheetos. The bright orange Cheetos bag, featuring Chester Cheetah, a grinning orange wild cat with sunglasses, is perhaps one of the most easily recognizable bits of packaging in the Western world. While Chester Cheetah tells us it’s not easy being cheesy, we’re glad that he’s committed to his job, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have these delicious treats in our lives.
From The Simpson’s Chief Wiggum to Clawhauser in Zootopia, cops and donuts go together like cream and coffee. However, it’s not just police officers who love these sweet treats. This form of fried dough has gone global, and the citizens of Earth are glad for it. Often glazed or topped with sugar or colourful sprinkles and filled with exciting things like jam, cream, or custard, donuts are iconic. Period. And what makes them even more iconic is their unique shape: everyone knows the donut and, subsequently, the donut hole. While some chains like Dunkin’ have made an entire businesses off of these round treats, other restaurants (like the Canadian-loved Tim Horton’s) have also made a pretty penny off of their donut production. But in the donut world, one company stands out: Krispy Kreme Donuts. They keep it plain and simple, and people seem to like it that way. Founded in 1937, Krispy Kreme Donuts has made a commitment to quality, and you can taste it. These donuts are made in house and come out of the deep-fryer steaming hot and ready to be picked up by customers. Their sweet glaze and deep-fried dough hit the spot every time, which makes it hard to eat only one…or even two.
When Hostess, the manufacturer of Twinkies, announced that they would be turning off their ovens for good, the world let out a cry of despair. These nostalgic snacks were invented in the 1930s, and have been gracing our shelves for more than 80 years. In 2012, when Hostess declared bankruptcy, they disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in all of our hearts. However, due to the public outcry, these cream-filled cakes came back in 2013. All-in-all, there was only a ten-month stretch where Twinkies no longer existed, and it let us glimpse into a world that we don’t want to live in. Often criticized for being ridiculously unhealthy, Twinkies, the American snack cake, nay, the American dream, is described as “golden sponge cake with creamy filling”. But it’s so much more than a simple snack. Not only was it a constant presence on the shelves of the grocery store, but it was also a staple of popular culture. In Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis’ character famously uses a Twinkie to explain psychokinetic energy. In Die Hard, Sargent Al Powell breaks the stereotype of the donut-loving cop by loving these spongy cakes instead. They even appear in Wall-E, in which the film plays on the idea that Twinkies shelf life is eternal, in which one of these creamy treats has made it to the beloved robot’s collection of things the humans have left behind. Long live Twinkies!
Released by Kellogg’s in 1964, Pop Tarts quickly became a national sensation. Seeing as they were released in a time where breakfast normally consisted of dry toast, bacon, and eggs, this toaster pastry changed the game. Shaped like a rectangle, Pop-Tarts have a sugary, fruity filling sealed inside two layers of a thin crust. While, originally, they didn’t have frosting on top, most varieties now contain frosting. Although they’re sold pre-cooked, these squares of sugar are designed to be warmed up inside a toaster or microwave oven. With millions of units sold each year, Pop-Tarts is Kellogg’s best selling brand to date, and for good reason. These rectangles of pure joy have become synonymous with the innocent days of childhood, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. While they contain little to no nutritional value, that doesn’t prevent customers from picking them up as a self-indulgent snack. Pop-Tarts were originally released in only 4 different flavors. Today, there are now over 27 different varieties of these goodies. Some of the most interesting Pop-Tarts flavors include all and any Jolly Rancher variations, the Pumpkin Pie flavor, and the Strawberry Milkshake. This food is so iconic that there are two different albums that have used its name: Pop Tart by Little Nobody and The Pop Tarts by Green. And they’re not just famous in music! They’ve also been heavily referenced in film as well: these rectangular goodies appeared in hits such as Pulp Fiction and Birdbox. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld even did a stand-up comedy routine about them! Wherever they show up, Pop-Tarts will always be an important part of our snacking lives.
A sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate wafers with a delectable soft creme filling, Oreos are on this list for a reason. While it’s true that any cookie makes for a perfect junk food, something about Oreos is difficult to resist. Maybe it’s the perfect combination of a hard crunch with a soft interior, maybe it’s the way they blend perfectly with milk. In any case, this cookie is perfect for any time of day. Introduced in 1912, Oreos quickly became the best-selling cookies in the US, and are available in more than 100 countries. Quite famously, this brand loves playing around with different varieties, with many of them offered for only a limited time. Some of these varieties include the Double Stuff Oreo, which had twice the filling, the Football Oreo, which was a football shaped cookie introduced in 1976, and the Oreo Mini, which, much like its name suggests, was a small version of the beloved cookie. Some of the stranger variations include the Swedish Fish Oreo, which had a red-colored filling, the Peeps Oreo, which was released in the Easter of 2017, consisting of two golden-colored wafers and a pink ‘Peep-flavored’ filling, and the Firework Oreo, which had poprocks inside of the filling. One of the most iconic appearances of these black-and-white cookies was in the 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph, in which the Oreos, acting as guards to a candy palace, sing their name in possibly one of the catchiest songs known to man.
5. Kraft Mac and Cheese
Arguably one of the most famous mac and cheese brands in the world, this snack comes with many different names: in Canada, it’s known as Kraft Dinner (or KD). In the United States and Australia, it’s known as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner or Kraft Mac & Cheese, and Macaroni Cheese or Cheesey Pasta. Whatever you call it, this packaged, non-perishable dry macaroni is an after school staple, perfect for when you come home and your parents are still at work. Created in the midst of the Great Depression, the purpose of this cheesy delight was to conveniently combine non-perishable dried macaroni noodles with a processed cheese powder into one delicious blue box. This easy-to-make snack is something that someone of any age can cook comfortably, and because of that, it’s become a favorite amongst children and college students alike. While there are other brands that have tried to compete with it, such as Annie’s or Quinoa Mac and Cheese, nothing compares to a solid bowl of warm, yummy Kraft Mac $ Cheese. With its signature bright blue cardboard box, every spoonful will bring you back to your simple childhood bliss, or to your exhausted college days. Perfect if you’re craving a taste of home, a big bowl of this comforting cheesy goodness is sure to satisfy you.
4. Pepperoni Pizza
Perfectly circular, golden crust, topped with beautiful slides of pepperoni and melted cheese, who doesn’t love a good pepperoni pizza? Present at every birthday party and after-school hangout, this greasy, gooey disc is a world-renowned guilty pleasure. Listen, we know that it’s not good for us: even if it does contain all four of the food groups, that doesn’t mean it gives us a perfectly balanced diet. Quite the opposite, really, when you think about the amount of grease and salt that goes into. But how can we be mad at pepperoni pizza? It’s just so good. This spherical dish gets a place on the list not only because it’s a delicious snack, but also because of how often it’s referenced on screen – pizza could just be the most referenced food ever. For example, in one of the most memorable scenes from the hit show Breaking Bad, the main character Walter White throws an entire pizza onto the roof of his home. In Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles, a repeated theme is how much the protagonists love pizza (even if it is sewer pizza). Even Friends, the wildly popular 90s sitcom, featured Joey’s love of pizza almost regularly. In fact, there are so many pizza moments, it’s impossible to pick a favorite one! Whether you like it or not, pepperoni pizza has had a notable impact on our culture.
3. McDonald’s French Fries
Everyone and anyone who has had a taste of McDonald’s French Fries, probably can’t get enough. These golden, beautifully salted sticks of potato are the perfect side to any dish bought at Mickey D’s, or even as a standalone midnight snack. Upon seeing those brilliant slices of potato in that bright red box, you can’t help but crave these deliciously delectable fries. Due to the combination of Russet Burbank potatoes, vegetable oil, natural flavors, and a few other ingredients, these sticks of goodness have become a national staple. McDonald’s never pretended that these were the healthiest choice: a large order of fries contains 500 calories and more than 38% of your recommended daily fat intake, and the “natural flavors” that McDonald’s advertises has come under fire by religious and health organizations. This is because, while potato and salt are certainly vegetarian, the oil that’s used to fry these fries isn’t. The beef flavoring that is added tot he oil was created by accident in the 1950s, when the restaurant’s oil supplier mixed in beef fat to its vegetable oil to extend its shelf life. This created the iconic flavor of McDonald’s fries, the one consumers can’t get enough of. And while the company has tweaked the recipe for health reasons, they reassure their customers that the nostalgic taste of their childhood is just as present as ever.
2. Cheez Whiz
Even though there are nearly 900 artisan and specialty cheesemakers in the US alone, this gooey, orange snack has been ingrained in our culture since the 1950s. Sold by Kraft Foods, food scientists invented this spreadable cheese product with a long shelf life in 1953. Who was behind this dreamlike creation? Edward Traisman, head food scientist at Kraft Foods, desired to create something that was quick and easy to eat. And so Cheez Whiz was born. No longer would American consumers have to peel plastic or cut a slice of cheese to eat, they would simply open a lid and shovel it into their mouths…or preferably onto a cracker or something. Easily recognizable for its color, this iconic food product comes in an equally recognizable glass jar, and it can be used as a topping on just about everything you can think of: hot dogs, corn chips, cheesesteak sandwiches, celery…the list is endless. There has been much speculation as to whether or not this product actually contains cheese, and though Kraft Foods claims that it does, the ingredient list only lists cheese culture and milk, not cheese itself. In any case, the creation of this product is what kicked off the processed food industry in the US.
1. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
Founded by childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, the first Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop was in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont. The pair were named US Small Business Persons of the Year in 1988 by Ronald Reagan, and were even invited to the White House to accept their awards. Despite their humble beginnings, Ben and Jerry’s has gone on to become a world-famous brand. In more than 38 countries for more than 40 years, Ben and Jerry’s is the rags-to-riches story every kid dreams of. With a whopping 60 flavors of ice cream to choose from, all with cheeky names (like Chubby Hubby, Netflix and Chill’d, and Urban Bourban, to name a few) it’s certain that this company has a playful spirit. They’re known for their good quality ice cream, but they’ve also been known to take a stand on political issues. The company has a long history of standing with LGBTQ causes, from hosting a same-sex wedding at their DC venue, to banning their shops in Australia from selling same-flavor double scoops until same-sex marriage was legalized (which, in 2017, it was). Not only that, the founders were arrested in 2016, along with hundreds of other protesters, as part of the Democracy Awakening protest. Much like their ice cream, Ben and Jerry certainly aren’t afraid to be bold!