We Need To Talk About Where ‘TikTok Pasta’ Really Came From
Before a lawyer in a cat filter broke the internet, there was a viral recipe that’d been bringing us together ― “TikTok Pasta.”
The dish has recently become wildly popular among home cooks, chefs and daytime television hosts alike. It’s essentially a baked brick of feta cheese that turns into a creamy pasta sauce when it’s mixed with roasted tomatoes and your noodles of choice.
But “TikTok Pasta” wasn’t always known by that name ― it was originally called UuniFetaPasta (uuni translates to oven in Finnish), and it has a storied past that’s now been erased by social media.
The story of the recipe’s origin, which brings together three chefs ― two in Finland and one in the United States ― drums up issues of due credit and intellectual property in the viral age.
Jenni Häyrinen’s UuniFetaPastaThe truth about the recipe’s beginnings is a little fuzzy, even when you get the full story. Jenni Häyrinen, a Finnish food blogger who has been sharing her recipes for 14 years, is responsible for creating the Finnish feta shortage you may have heard something about when she first shared the recipe in February 2019.
As she told HuffPost, its inception was a classic story of waiting too long to eat lunch and craving something delicious and filling. “I really felt like eating baked feta, you know it’s a little greasy, delicious,” she said. “But I thought that doesn’t really make an entire lunch. So I thought, ‘Maybe tomatoes! Perhaps it will make a pasta sauce.’ I added some pasta and posted it on my Instagram ― it was super easy and fast.”
Soon after, she recalls, things got out of hand. There were messages, influencers trying the recipe, Finnish newspapers writing up and yes, even a feta shortage.
But shortly after that, she started getting other messages. They were from followers of fellow food blogger Tiiu Piret who, one year earlier in 2018, created what she then called “Prosecco Spaghetti.” It’s a slightly more complicated version of UuniFetaPasta, made with feta, of course, but also Prosecco, onions and honey.
Piret’s story goes similarly. The blogger, who says her Greek-food-loving mother inspired her to start working with baked feta, told HuffPost she has been publishing various baked feta recipes since 2014, but added pasta in 2018 in a “common leftover situation.”
“Obviously, I’m not the queen of branding, since I named my feta pasta “Prosecco Spaghetti in the first place,” she said.
Piret describes the outcome of her readers noticing the similarities between the two recipes as “unpleasant,” adding, “I felt like I was being accused of overreacting when my followers tried to have my back.”
For Häyrinen’s part, she told HuffPost she hadn’t seen Piret’s recipe when she made her own, pointing out the differences between the two.
“I got a few messages saying I’m copying her and not giving credit, but I didn’t know what they were talking about,” she said. “I found out about her recipe, a more complex and different technique with cava, onions and thyme, but I hadn’t seen it before. I did tell my followers to try her recipe too as it sounded really good!”
Häyrinen and Piret spoke on the phone following the incident and ultimately seem encouraging of the other person’s version. Piret put the debate to rest in a blog post (in Finnish) basically calling Häyrinen’s recipe “wonderful” and telling followers it’s better to spend less time debating and more time eating feta cheese.
Then Mackenzie Smith entered the picture. She is, undoubtedly, credited as being the one to bring the trend stateside.
Smith, a Florida-based chef and cookbook author who has appeared on the Food Network and writes a very aptly named blog Grilled Cheese Social, heard about the recipe from a Finnish friend and made it for her followers, giving credit to Häyrinen in September 2019, when she was, as she said, “super pregnant.”
“I was like, ‘This is the perfect pregnancy recipe, it’s so easy,’” she said. “Then a bunch of my followers started making it.”
Yumna Jawad, a friend of Smith’s and a fellow chef (with a massive Instagram following) was one of many people who reached out to her about trying it. They each shared recipe videos on their respective TikToks around the same time ― and people went nuts. Millions of views, thousands of new followers ― you know how the story goes.
At the time of publishing this piece, there was no feta at my grocery store in Brooklyn. When the cheesemonger broke ― crumbled? ― the news to a woman ahead of me in line, her son complained, “I wanted to make the pasta!”
There are now variations from chefs all over the world, a phenomenon Smith, Piret and Häyrinen agree is positive. But the lack of proper credit can be frustrating. Piret, who calls herself the underdog in this entire story, says it’s “no great matter” that she’s rarely credited for the recipe. But for Smith and Häyrinen, who have watched the recipe spiral out of control and who have become excluded from the conversation, it’s a bit jarring.
“I was kind of salty about it,” Smith said. “It’s not my recipe to begin with, it is based on Jenni’s. But it went viral in the U.S. because of me, and all of these other, bigger websites have now scooped up the Google rating. I just hope we can make things right.”
Part of making things right for Smith was explaining a bit more of the backstory to her followers on Instagram, asking them for help referring to its correct name and tagging correctly in part to improve her Google rankings.
“Language surrounding recipes is something I’ve been really talkative about, especially when it comes to cultural appropriation of recipes in the first place,” Smith told HuffPost. “Saying this is ‘inspired by’ or an adaptation of something. Words are so important and should also apply to viral content.”
It’s worth noting that the appropriation of foods and recipes is unfortunately commonplace on the internet and beyond, and there are far more egregious examples.
There appears to be no bad blood (or moldy cheese) between anyone over who started it, but one thing is clear: In the viral age, it’s worth taking the extra few minutes to thank those responsible for bringing us baked, cheesy, comforting goodness. As far as the many, many variations with different cheeses and ingredients, all three chefs enthusiastically encourage everyone to keep making it their own.
“There are so many versions I’ve seen and want to try,” Häyrinen said. “I saw one with burrata, a version with jalapeños, people really have gotten creative with it.”
Piret is partial to the original, calling it her “comfort food,” and offering up a tip:
“The secret for extra rich flavors is honey,” she said. “The added sweetness will rise the dish to a whole new level. One of my favorite things about this pasta is that it actually tastes amazing even the next day straight from the fridge. It tastes like the richest and creamiest pasta salad you’ve ever dreamed of.”
So, there you have it. And now we’re hungry for UuniFetaPasta and its many variations made on TikTok and beyond.