South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) issued a warning urging people to stop eating deep fried toothpicks. Videos of people preparing and eating the toothpicks have gone viral on TikTok and Instagram in recent months, and appear to be especially popular in South Korea.
“This is not a product to eat!” South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety wrote in a post on X. “Their safety as food has not been verified!”
In the videos appearing on social media, individuals can be seen frying toothpicks so that they appear similar to curly fries. But unlike the wooden toothpicks often found in the U.S., most toothpicks in South Korea are made of corn or potato starch mixed with sorbitol, a sweet sugar alcohol found naturally in various fruits. Because of this, they are biodegradable and dissolve in water. The toothpicks also often have green food coloring added to them and are frequently used in restaurants.
“Mukbang” videos, which show content creators eating excessive amounts of strange or unusual foods, have grown extremely popular in South Korea in recent years. The emergence of fried toothpicks on social media is the latest example of “Mukbang” videos.
In 2018, the South Korean government attempted to impose regulations on these videos to prevent them from encouraging binge eating and harming public health.
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The proposed regulations were never adopted because of a large backlash from citizens who viewed it as an overreach of government power.