The Most Popular Cuisines on Instagram in 2021
Back in February 2021, we ranked international cuisines according to the number of tagged foods on Instagram, and Japanese cuisine topped the chart with over 15.5 million hashtags. Italian foods followed close with 14.7 million hashtags, and Indian cuisine placed third.
A year later, we decided to compare the numbers and see which foods and cuisines grew in popularity since running our previous analysis. As it turns out, Italian and Indian cuisines have been the most buzzing cuisines on Instagram over the past 12 months, outranking Japanese cuisine in popularity growth.
However, Japanese food continues to lead the all-time rankings and has the highest number of tagged posts on Instagram – over 18 million.
Why does this matter?
When it comes to food, Instagram is by far the most influential social media platform, with literally billions and billions of food-related posts. #Food alone has been used in close to 500 million Instagram posts, while #foodies claims more than 200 million posts.
Instagram influencers have extended their reach and are actually shaping the industry nowadays; trends on Instagram are closely watched by the restaurant and food industry, and they can even make or break a business.
Whether it’s a melting slice of pizza, a colorful bowl of pasta, or a hearty curry, Instagrammers have tagged over 7 million posts with #italianfood and #indianfood over the past 12 months.
The second year into the pandemic, Gen Z-ers and Millennials, who make up the bulk of Instagram’s user base, continue to favor comfort foods above everything else. As many experts forecasted, certain pandemic trends are here to stay, and comfort food popularity is obviously one of them.
And who does comfort food better than anyone else? Italians, of course.
Parla come mangi! Why Italian is the ultimate comfort food
‘Parla come mangi’ is a popular Italian saying that basically translates into ‘speak the way you eat’. By using it, you’re encouraging someone to speak clearly and simply, without overcomplicating things. This less-is-more, keep-it-simple, unpretentious approach is basically Italian cuisine in a nutshell, and it’s one of the reasons why Italian food is so loved around the world.
With Italian cuisine being the ultimate comfort food, it’s no wonder that #pizza and #pasta are among the top 5 most cherished foods worldwide. These two hashtags alone appeared on Instagram over 14 million times over the past year. What’s more, hashtags relating to Italian food were used close to 4 million times on Instagram over the past year, up 28% Y-o-Y.
But while Italian food might be simple and comforting, it’s also very aesthetically pleasing, which is exactly what Instagram is all about. Italians know very well how important aesthetics are and what a huge role they play on Instagram. Italian food often involves rich, earthy colors that pop, like reds and greens – colors that are easier to enhance with all those fun Instagram filters, too.
Finally, Italian food is often based around a white food or ingredient like pasta, gnocchi, or risotto. This, according to Jim Mumford, provides more color variety and contrast in the shot, making it even more visually-pleasing and raking in millions of likes.
Despite its tremendous appeal, Italian cuisine’s status as the world’s most popular cuisine has been threatened by the rise of Asian cuisine. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Indian foods have seen their popularity skyrocket over the past few years.
Curry is the new pizza? Indian cuisine threatens to overtake Italian in popularity
In 2021, Indian cuisine was the second most popular cuisine on Instagram, even outranking Japanese cuisine, which boasts the most tagged posts. This year, it’s following Italian cuisine very closely, with more than 3.3 million hashtags relating to Indian food used in the past 12 months. But why are Indian foods so popular nowadays?
Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse, with a very complex flavor profile that can satisfy every preference and taste. Moreover, with such a huge Indian diaspora, you can find Indian restaurants in almost every corner of the world, so Indian foods are easily accessible. You don’t have to book a table at a fancy restaurant weeks in advance to give Indian food a try, which breaks the barrier to entry, in a way. It doesn’t hurt that India also has the highest number of Instagram users across the globe, so one can assume that many #indianfood-related posts were local.
However, there is no talking down the global success of Indian cuisine – it’s one of the most loved cuisines in the US, the UK, South Korea, France, and many other countries. A research report by the National Bureau of Economic Research ranked Indian cuisine among the five most popular international cuisines. But what makes it so popular?
You know that saying ‘sugar and spice and everything nice?’ If you want to spice up your life, then Indian food is the way to go. A true festival of flavors and aromas, Indian food is all about the spices, and its popularity has fueled global demand for garam masala, ginger, cumin, and nutmeg, just to name a few. Years ago, not many people were familiar with these spices, relying mostly on salt, pepper, and perhaps a bit of curry powder to add some flavor to their food. Just think about it, did you even know what turmeric was ten years ago?
Nowadays, people all around the world are using spices, trying to replicate the rich flavor density of Indian cuisine in their homes. Most spices commonly used in Indian dishes have medicinal benefits, and many of these dishes are also vegan-friendly. So, health-conscious foodies looking to enjoy a comforting dish might choose Indian instead of Italian and eliminate the post-carb guilt.
Japanese food, the undefeated champion of Instagram hashtags
While Italian and Indian cuisines were the most popular on Instagram over the past 12 months, Japanese food still boasts the highest all-time number of tagged posts on the social media platform. As of February 2022, hashtags related to Japanese food appeared in more than 18 million Instagram posts. Japanese cuisine also appeared in more than 3 million Instagram posts over the past year, so its popularity is not dwindling, quite the contrary – it keeps growing.
The top Japanese food export, sushi, is more popular than ever, and cities across the globe are becoming more and more sushi-crazed, according to a recent Chef’s Pencil analysis. In fact, #sushi was one of the most popular foods on Instagram in the past year, appearing on over 3,200,000 posts.
You might wonder how Japanese cuisine can be more popular than Italian or Indian because it’s not as easily accessible and definitely not to everyone’s taste. Here’s the thing: Japanese cuisine has focused heavily on aesthetics for centuries because Japanese people tend to ‘eat with their eyes first.’
In many Japanese cuisines, the visual aspect is just as important as the taste, if not more important. The use of shapes, colors, textures, decorations, and plating techniques is a crucial part of Japanese cuisine, and it has been this way long before Instagram even existed. Now you might begin to understand why Japanese food is so incredibly popular on the platform.
Traditional Japanese foods are carefully thought-out, with each dish individually plated or presenting a different concept. Japanese dishware, called washokki, are crafted in different shapes, textures, and colors to showcase each individual food, like the frame on a painting, if you will. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you’ll know what we mean; the visual factor plays a big role, and each dish is presented like a piece of art.
This focus on aesthetics, colors, and plating is why Japanese cuisine is so popular on Instagram compared to other cuisines. If Italian and Indian food triggers an emotional response on Instagram, Japanese food awakens the artistic side and gets people to think of food as more than just something that tastes good.
Mexican Cuisine Steady Growth to the Top of the Table
Compared to last year, Mexican food has improved its ranking by one position, now sitting just slightly below 4th-ranked Korean food. Mexican cuisine is the second most popular international cuisine in America, with 82 percent of US consumers loving or liking it, according to a report by Data Essential.
Asian Cuisines Continue to Dominate the Top 10
Similar to last year’s rankings, apart from Italian, Mexican, and Greek foods, the top 10 Instagram hits are for the tastes of Asia. Whether Instagram is driving the trend or reflecting it, the scores show a clear preference for all foods Asian.
Korean food popularity ranked 4th on Instagram last year, and the incredible rise of Korean culture will certainly continue to extend to its cuisine too.
Chinese food outranked Thai in 2021, Indonesian and Vietnamese cuisines have largely kept their top rankings steady, while Filipino food ranked just outside the top 10.
Cuisines with the Highest Growth in 2021
The cuisines that have grown the fastest in popularity over the past 12 months were not necessarily the most popular overall, with a couple of exceptions.
Indian food grew the fastest in 2021, with an almost whooping 41% more tags compared to a year ago. If the growth of Indian cuisine popularity continues at this pace, it will soon top Instagram’s all-time charts.
Jamaican food experienced the second highest growth rate on Instagram in 2021. Not a small feat for the this Caribbean cuisine that doesn’t have the huge cultural weight nor the diaspora of Italy, India or China.
This may come as a surprise to many, but a panel of 250 chefs voted Jamaican cuisine one of the most underrated cuisines in the world. The chefs we interviewed felt that Jamaican food deserves greater recognition and a place among the world’s top cuisines. Instagram users seemingly agree, and we hear that besides the US and Canada, Jamaican and Caribbean foods have seen their popularity skyrocket in the UK as well.
Jamaican is not the only Caribbean cuisine that did extremely well in 2021. Dominican cuisine ranked 7th among the cuisines with the highest growth rate. Dominican cuisine is considered the result of an interconnection of Taino, African, and Hispanic culture. This Caribbean nation greatly appreciates the joy of its people. Each town, with its own distinctive fiesta, creates the perfect scenario to elaborate a culinary feast.
Nigerian Cuisine: 3rd Fastest Growing Cuisine on Instagram
At the beginning of 2021, Food&Wine announced that one of the biggest trends in 2021 will be deeper dives into the food of the African diaspora. They were spot on given the meteoric rise of Nigerian food popularity on Instagram.
The African continent has an under-developed restaurant industry, but arguably one with the highest growth potential. And there are many top-notch African-inspired restaurants opening all over the world, further popularizing the cuisine worldwide.
The Rise of Middle Eastern Cuisine
Middle Eastern food has been rising in popularity all over the world, from Australia to Europe and North America. In 2018, Whole Foods named Middle Eastern cuisine one of the top food trends in America. In Canada, especially in Ottawa and Toronto, you can find shawarma eateries in every corner of the city, while the number of Middle Eastern restaurants in London and the UK has exploded in the past few years.
Want more proof? Turkish and Lebanese foods, two of the culinary powerhouses of the Middle East, ranked 4th and 5th among the fastest growing cuisines on Instagram last year.
Top Cuisines on Instagram (All-Time Rankings)
Chef’s Pencil analyzed Instagram data from February 2021 through February 2021. The number of tags reported are rounded down to the nearest thousand. Rankings are based on the number of tags.
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