The Funfetti History You've Never Even Thought Of

It seems like the United States is preoccupied with work: We give a lot of ourselves to the hustle and grind. But what's really underrated is fun! After all, what's life without a healthy dose of delight? This cultural shift toward joy is no better evidenced than by the renaissance of Funfetti of the last five or so years. Sometimes marketed as "birthday cake," this flavor is no longer reserved for once a year, according to Nation's Restaurant News. Today says you can even add it to your morning coffee.

As noted by Salon, there's a lot that we can learn from Funfetti: brightness, exuberance, and a healthy dose of childlike playfulness. Before breaking out the next bit of rainbow-sprinkled delight, take a look back at the journey Funfetti took as it made its way to our modern plates.

It all started in the '80s

As Salon outlines, the word Funfetti comes deliciously and delightfully from combining "fun" with "confetti." The name in itself indicates the whimsy and celebration that this flavor is meant to embody. It first hit the shelves through Pillsbury right at the tail end of the '80s. The OG recipe was a white cake, for instance. For those who are unfamiliar, while white cakes look like vanilla cakes, they have a slightly different recipe that excludes egg yolk, giving them a different texture, taste, and of course, a whiter appearance (via Difference Between). 

A cake wouldn't be Funfetti without the outrageously contrasting rainbow sprinkles. It stood out not only flavor-wise from more traditional staples of the cake world, like chocolate and vanilla, but also looked stunningly visually different than other cakes on the market.

Food show host, author, and recipe maker Molly Yeh proclaims in one interview with The New York Times that Funfetti was THE birthday cake of the '90s. She observes that if you wanted to be a cool kid, you had to have Funfetti on the cake table. To this day, the chef associates the flavor most closely with birthday pool parties, the slight taste of chlorine, and of course, sprinkle-filled smiles. As time has progressed, Funfetti may not be the go-to birthday cake flavor anymore, but it's certainly made a name for itself outside of the birthday party.

Then came Dunkaroos

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Funfetti and the '90s without including another major staple: Dunkaroos. Dunkaroos were a major snack of the decade, essentially small vanilla cookies that would be dipped — or better yet, dunked — into Funfetti-esque icing (via Snack History). Fittingly, to round out the snack's name, the cookies were offered in the shapes of both kangaroos and basketballs.

While these cookies were a departure from the birthday cake mix, as noted by Snack History, they were very much a staple treat mainly for their icing. While not technically Funfetti, Dunkaroos were Funfetti adjacent, with a very similar recipe. Indicative of just how good the recipe was, in the 2020s, Betty Crocker set out to revive the '90s classic, according to writers at Mashed. Sadly, the classic kangaroo shapes didn't come back with the cookie, but the dunking remains the same.

There were many imitations

Since its genesis in the late '80s, Funfetti has been trademarked by its original creator, Pillsbury (via The New York Times). This means that legally, only the Pillsbury brand can make Funfetti-branded products, which also means that technically Funfetti isn't actually a flavor, but rather a specific commodity. This is why there are just about a million names for the same flavor. "Rainbow sprinkle" and "birthday cake" are often used as stand-ins for that Funfetti name. Baking giants like Betty Crocker even opted for names like Rainbow Chip (via the New York Times and Betty Crocker). This is, for example, why Dunkaroos never specified exactly what their icing is, although it tastes extremely similar to Funfetti and even has the rainbow sprinkles that define it, as per The New York Times.

Given the sheer magnitude of the flavor, it's not surprising that other brands have tried to get in on some of the confetti that this flavor is throwing around. To recognize the Funfetti formula doesn't take much know-how or reading between the lines. If you see white cake and rainbow sprinkles, according to the New York Times, just like the original recipe, you'll be in for the delights that only Funfetti can provide.

Soon it became all about the frosting

As evidenced by Betty Crocker's Rainbow Chip, while Funfetti was once just a cake mix, soon it became all about the frosting. After all, the supremely sweet vanilla notes and satisfy crunch of the rainbow sprinkles make for a wonderful topping. Not to mention, visually, Funfetti adds a whimsical topping to the cake. 

While an exact history of exclusively Funfetti icing was, at the time, unclear, its popularity is hard to ignore. In an FAQ from Betty Crocker, the company noted that its iconic rainbow chip frosting was first created in the '80s, which points to Funfetti icing originating around the same time as the cake mix. While enjoying relative popularity, the brand discontinued the iconic icing in the 2010s, believing that consumers wouldn't like chips in their frosting. However, as the cake makers humbly note in their FAQ, they were dead wrong. With a healthy amount of pushback, Rainbow Chip was brought back into Betty Crockers' offerings in 2017, just a few years after pulling it. This could be because stars like Katy Perry voiced their discontent at the frosting's discontinuation. The brand also featured a man by the name of Benjamin Johnson on the tub in 2017, due to the fact he spearheaded a petition to bring back the ingredient which garnered thousands of signatures. It's safe to say that Funfetti, and all of its other names, is a flavor prized by many people.

One ingredient makes Funfetti taste unique

It's already been established that Funfetti is uniquely loved, but there are few twists in its recipe that put it in a category of its own. As one food journalist at The Takeout so blithely observes, Funfetti really doesn't taste like anything else on this planet, partially because of how artificial it is. This flavor is super processed and super sweet, and there's nothing organic in this recipe, at least when it's store-bought. But it does beg the question, what actually makes Funfetti taste like Funfetti? Sleuths on the Subreddit r/Baking insist that there is one ingredient that sets Funfetti apart: imitation vanilla. The Redditors insist that Funfetti is best enjoyed as a low-brow treat, and the cheaper the imitation vanilla the better. After all, to paraphrase the board, where's the fun in having a healthy-tasting Funfetti cake?

The Take Out and confectioners at Julie's Café Bakery insist that functionally there's nothing major that separates Funfetti from other vanilla white cakes, and that it's actually the visual element of Funfetti that makes it taste the way it does. As The Take Out theorizes, we eat with our eyes and then our mouths. So it can be surmised that the key to Funfetti is to not take it too seriously, enjoy low-brow ingredients, and of course, don't skimp on the sprinkles.

There are lots of ways to make the nostalgic mix at home

With all of the fervor surrounding Funfetti at the moment, you might be motivated to bring Funfetti into your kitchen. Thankfully, the flavor has proven not only to have staying power, but to be versatile and relatively forgiving. There are probably few things in life that are more fun an undertaking than perfecting the art of a Funfetti cake. After all, as touted by Molly Yeh in an interview with The New York Times, it still makes the perfect birthday cake for kids and nostalgic adults alike. When making Funfetti cake, it needn't get much more complicated than the box recipe, if that's not your style.

But, of course, given the renaissance of Funfetti on the market, there's no shortage of creative recipes to reimagine the classic Funfetti cake. For those who are looking for a more European twist on the childhood favorite, there's also a seriously sophisticated Funfetti Napoleon cake with mascarpone filling that will leave you digging into the best of both worlds.

Funfetti can be elevated to seriously elegant heights

While Funfetti might be most closely connected with childhood, it certainly has a role in adult cuisine. After all, who wouldn't be delighted for a slice of light-hearted Funfetti after a seriously indulgent dinner party? But if you're looking to add a twist to a simple favorite, Funfetti can be adapted to more elegant heights. As evidenced by The New York Times, plenty of bakeries have taken on to making their own Funfetti cupcakes, while other confectioners have sought to bring the dish to more sophisticated settings. Take the Milk Bar's gourmet birthday cake, which was around $43 dollars for a 6" cake at the time of writing. While the price tag may be exorbitant, reviewers over at Meal Finds note that the hype is well-worth the price tag and deem it a guilty pleasure worth indulging in. Meanwhile, Funfetti has made a name for itself in other areas of the baked good world. In 2016, one journalist at Insider described the New York City-based Funfetti croissant as dethroning the cronut of the city's favorite treat. It seems that no longer where, or what, you put Funfetti in, it'll shine.

Funfetti is here to stay

It's safe to say that Funfetti is beyond a trend, and moreover a flavor that is here to stay. Who knows, perhaps one day it will be as classic a cake flavor as strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla. While The New York Times describes Funfetti as "exploding" in popularity, perhaps it's just taken two or so generations for it to really solidify in American cuisine. There's no telling just how far this flavor will go in the coming years. After all, between 2022 and 2023, there's already been the rise of everything from Funfetti doughnuts to sprinkle-imbued Funfetti popcorn (via Dawn Foods and Convenience Store News). Sure, these newer products may prove to be food trends that we roll our eyes at in the distant future, but the sprinkle-filled delight that is Funfetti seems to promise to keep throwing confetti on our plates for a long, long time.