The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in South Korea recently issued a public service announcement (PSA) stressing that deep-fried toothpicks are not intended for consumption, as their safety remains unverified.
This peculiar trend involves frying toothpicks in oil, causing them to expand and coil in a manner resembling curly fries, as depicted in widely circulated videos on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Subsequently, individuals embellish these fried toothpicks with powdered cheese and various seasonings before consuming them. A well-known YouTube creator, @toozidiary, likened their flavor to “rice cakes” in a video.
While this practice may raise concerns resembling symptoms of pica, where individuals consume non-food items, South Korean toothpicks differ from their U.S. counterparts. The majority are crafted from corn or potato starch mixed with sorbitol, a sugary alcohol found in fruits with natural laxative properties in concentrated amounts, appealing to those with a sweet tooth.
Despite being eco-friendly and biodegradable due to their starch composition, the toothpicks are soluble in water, similar to dissolvable packing peanuts. Additionally, food coloring is used to give them a green hue, commonly employed for eating finger foods at South Korean restaurants. Despite these seemingly positive attributes, health officials caution against consuming these dental utensils, emphasizing their lack of approval for human consumption.
The act of crunching toothpicks is part of a broader trend known as “Mukbang videos,” wherein individuals, known as gluttonous gastronauts, consume excessive amounts of exotic foods for social media attention. Drawing parallels, the Chinese government took steps in 2021 to ban such indulgent displays, aiming to discourage food waste.