Last week I had the most intense craving for something with a fatty richness and tangy / sour / tart kick to it as well. And then it hit me that I've been indulging in sour and citrus tastes since 2020. I was never a big sour cream person, but I've made it a staple since that year, along with tortilla chips "with a lime kick," lemon-lime seltzer, and so on and so forth.
Was it just me?
I looked around the supermarket, and there was lemon-flavored EVERYTHING, even expanding into orange-flavored versions as well. I don't ever remember seeing orange cake / loaf, but there it was -- right next to the lemon one, of course. "Lemon cake batter" cookies, "glazed lemon loaf" herbal tea, "lemon cheesecake" ice cream, Moroccan preserved lemons in the imported section (never saw them before), and on and on and on.
Thinking back on it, the "lime kick" tortilla chips were always more sold out, compared to the regular white or yellow ones. And the lemon-lime seltzer was more sold out than the other flavors. Someone noticed this huge demand for citrus, and started putting it in everything else -- and now those items are flying off the shelves as well.
It's gotten so bad that I'm going to start making my own tzatziki sauce at home, since I'm craving it like crazy in a way I never used to, and the pre-made stuff is too expensive. I'm going to be making some ground beef and rice in the crock pot, and that citrusy dairy sauce is exactly what I need for it. Just a couple years ago, it would've been more cumin-y and spicy, but now I'm leaning more on a lemon pepper spice mix, a seasoning I first bought last year and would never have considered in the 2010s.
I'm already a zealous convert of Stash's meyer lemon herbal tea (really a blend of rosehip & hibiscus with lemongrass, orange peel, citric acid and lemon oil, but the bright lemon really stands out). I'll be trying out lemon yoghurt, or maybe just add some lemon to inexpensive plain yoghurt.
And by far my favorite new go-to cologne is the '60s chypre Aramis. I was not a fan of citrus when I was buying up all sorts of late '70s and '80s colognes during the early 2010s. My fave back then would've been Kouros. But I've found myself drawn to the chypre profile now, with its citrusy top notes and mossy base notes.
Who else is on board the lemon train? Mumei mentioned buying a lemon loaf during a meet-up with her fellow Hololive streamers a few weeks ago. Thotton Mather on Twitter (now privated) has been making lemon meringue, maybe lemon curd, and even lemon & thyme ice cream! From 2020, I distinctly remember Heather Habsburg (deactivated), the 6' tall anti-woke left cottagecore lesbian aspiring tradwife, having an entire tree full of lemons that she didn't know what to do with, getting tons of eager recommendations on what to make. I don't remember hearing so many off-hand references to lemon items during the 2010s.
Now we're all on a quest -- a quest for zest.
* * *
So what's with the abrupt change? Well, first we also have to look at what is fading out, as well as what's coming in, in order to characterize the changes. The main flavor profile that used to be everywhere in the late 2000s and 2010s, but has been going out lately, is spicy. Not long ago, it was like a status contest -- who could handle the spiciest pepper, the most death-defying hot sauce, etc. It was about spiciness, and intensity.
Now, it's about tartness, but also mellowness -- we're not competing over who can handle the most mouth-puckering sour raw wild citrons. It's just, "Mmmm, I feel like a little tart in my dessert, so why not make it a lemon loaf this summer?"
What changed in 2020 was the shift from a high-energy 15-year excitement cycle (2005-'19) to a low-energy cycle (2020-'34). The 2005-'19 period was one of the most intense zeitgeists in world history, certainly since the last high-energy cycle in 1975-'89 ("the Eighties"). We're going to be dialing down the intensity for our baseline, even as the 15-year excitement cycle moves through its three phases (restless, manic, and vulnerable).
Spicy intensity easily dovetails with a high-energy period, just as a mellow tartness goes with a more laid-back period. It doesn't overload your senses, and if anything puts just a slight downer note on things -- while still making a bright and refreshing impression as well, without becoming sweet or saccharine.
You might think bitter or pungent tastes would be more up to the task, but they're too niche. Sour / tart / tangy is perfectly able to appeal to the masses, though. I'm not even sure that bitter and pungent are appropriate now, since they're pretty intense, making them more suited to a high-energy cycle -- and indeed, the late 2000s and 2010s saw a new fascination with stinky cheeses and darker and darker levels of dark chocolate.
* * *
This suggests we ought to see a similar pattern during other low-energy cycles, such as 1990-2004, 1960-'74, 1930-'44, and perhaps 1900-'14.
I'll mainly focus on the '90s and y2k period, since that is undergoing a revival right now, and is the easiest reference point for anyone reading this. But first, I noticed when browsing around that the Orange Crush drink was introduced in 1911, during a low-energy cycle. Key lime pie was invented / caught on during the '30s, a low-energy cycle. And Sunny Delight was released in the '60s, also a low-energy cycle.
Chypre perfumes and colognes were also most popular during the '60-'74 cycle, although they have existed before and since.
Looking back, there was quite a citrus craze during the '90s and y2k.
First, there was a renewed fascination with Sunny Delight / Sunny D, which was just not there during the '80s. The company officially rebranded the product as SunnyD in 2000, riding the hype train.
Then there was the revival of citrus notes in perfumes and colognes. The '90s / y2k is most known for the aquatic trend (itself part of the low-energy mellow vibe of the period), but it was just as citrus-infused. The decade-defining unisex scent, cK One, is loaded with citrus, and somewhat of a spin on the chypre concept. Acqua di Gio, notable mainly for its aquatic profile, also has a citrus-heavy opening. And the ubiquitous Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (the first cologne I ever bought, in college during the early 2000s), is somewhat like the aromatic fougeres of the late '70s and '80s -- except it has a huge citrus blast at the outset, which did not exist in the heavier, stinkier, more animalic predecessors (other than Drakkar Noir).
U2 had a hit song / music video in 1993 called "Lemon", and there was a popular alternative band called the Lemonheads.
The pen name Lemony Snicket was used to write a popular series of children's books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, almost all of which were published from '99 to '04 (the movie adaptation was also part of the y2k era, in '04).
I'm sure there are other pop culture references to lemons from this period, and I'll add them in the comments if I come across more (or leave your own examples).
As for food, I remember eating the lemonheads candy most during the '90s, not the '80s, although it had been out for decades (beginning in the mellow cycle of the '60s). Same with Sour Patch Kids (originally called Mars Men when they debuted during a mellow cycle, in the early '70s). I have a million memories of kids junk food from the '80s, and none of them are sour.
I don't know about every food fad of the '90s and early 2000s, but by far the most trendy ethnic cuisines that took over were Eastern Mediterranean -- Greek nationwide, and Lebanese / Levantine where there were diaspora communities.
There had been Italian dressing, suddenly there had to be Greek dressing as well. Gyros, tzatziki sauce, dolmas in cans in the supermarket, mini spanakopita in the frozen section of Trader Joe's, Wendy's even debuting a line of pita / wrap sandwiches with feta cheese, and so on and so forth.
I think a key component of those flavors was citrus -- especially in the sauces, like tzatziki and hummus (which we had not tasted before the '90s), but also dolmas, since the meat and grains themselves were not novel to us. Beef / lamb, and rice? Had it already. What's special about this dish? A tangy citrusy sauce? Hmmm, not like ketchup, mustard, BBQ, hot sauce, or mayo, let's give it a try. Just what we needed during a tart-craving mellow cycle.
I also remember my mother putting lemon slices over fish in the oven, something I don't remember from the '80s, or anytime since when she has cooked.
Sprite was my junk drink of choice in the '90s, though I've never been a big sugar-water drinker, and can't really compare to what I've had in the late 2000s and 2010s. I only wanted plain carbonated water during the high-energy cycle, not one with a citrus twist. Oh, that reminds me of the iconic scene in L.A. Story (from '91), where all the yuppies are ordering their drinks "with a lemon twist".
I was not of drinking age for most of that cycle, although I do know that the mojito, with its lime kick, exploded during the early 2000s. And I remember everyone, including me, asking for a lime or lemon wedge to put in the top of a bottle of Corona beer, before turning it upside down to get some citrus into the alcohol. Perhaps that tradition goes back farther in Mexico, but it's something that American kids only started doing in the '90s / y2k.
That reminds me of another rider on the citrus train right now, Marina (@shamshi_adad on Twitter), who favors a negroni. And the OG groyper (@groyper on Gab) enjoys citrus herbal tea, as well as Earl Grey black tea (bergamot).
* * *
As the late 2000s shifted into a high-energy cycle, these mellow and citrusy tastes got left behind, in favor of more intense flavors, especially those that were spicy, pungent, and bitter. From sticking a lemon wedge in your Corona bottle, to ordering "hoppy" IPAs (still never tasted one, can't stand beer, but from reading around, it looks like it refers to a bitter, or perhaps fruity / floral taste of the hops, not necessarily a sour or citrusy one).
But now that the high-energy cycle is over, it's back to the sour and citrusy tastes of the mellow cycle that we last saw during the '90s and early 2000s.
I still prefer earthy, pungent, no-acidity coffees to the bright and citrusy ones. Still love dark chocolate. And stinky cheeses, paired with berries rather than citrus. And seasoning beef with cumin, among other things.
But it's hard to ignore how much tart, sour, and citrus has crept into my meals over the past couple years -- and into everyone else's as well.