On an average day, it’s hard not to scroll through your TikTok For You page and be met with a barrage of stomach-churning food trends. A few months ago, the public was captivated by “Spokane-style pizza,” a (completely made-up) concoction of mozzarella cheese, strawberries, and canned salmon; just last month, health-conscious TikTokers were trying “healthy Coke,” a trend that involved dousing seltzer with balsamic vinegar to purportedly try to mimic the iconic beverage (spoiler: it doesn’t work). And let’s not even discuss the people who make milkshakes in toilets for clout.
Yet for a wide range of reasons, over the past few days one food trend has come to dominate them all: Pink Sauce, a product created and marketed by a woman who goes by Chef Pii. Known for her bright, Pepto Bismol-hued concoction, which reportedly features such ingredients as pitaya (dragonfruit), raw honey, and pink Himalayan sea salt, Chef Pii rode the wave of success on TikTok for some time, with many users raving about the novelty of the sauce, if not about how it actually tastes. Yet over the past few weeks, she’s faced numerous questions about the ingredients, packaging, and marketing of the sauce, prompting a bigger social media-based food scandal than when a Bon Appetit himbo was called out for potentially promoting botulism.
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For the past month, Chef Pii has been hard at work promoting her pink sauce, drizzling it on various foods and selling it for $20 a bottle. And it’s clear why it’s attracted so much attention: with its eye-popping hue and millennial-bait packaging (which more than one commenter has pointed out resembles the logo for Victoria’s Secret’s Pink label), it’s the perfect food trend to capture the attention of an ever-fickle algorithm.
Yet over the past few weeks, questions have accumulated about the promotion of the product, specifically the fact that Chef Pii, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has been cagey about disclosing exactly what it tastes like (in one video she posted, it’s compared to “sweet ranch” but is also classified as “spicy”; in another, she said, “It has its own taste, if you wanna taste it, buy it.”). Furthermore, in videos posted by customers, the hue and the consistency of the sauce seemed to be somewhat variable, though this could fairly easily be attributed to changes in angle or lighting.
Such critiques hit a fever pitch, however, when creator @seansvv posted a video questioning details about the labeling of pink sauce. While he started the video by saying he wanted to support entrepreneurs and small-business owners, “if someone gets sick from this, I am scared for the person who gets sick and the person who owns this business,” he said before showing a Pink Sauce bottle label that seems to indicate that it contains 444 servings of the product, at 60 calories per serving of about a tablespoon — a near mathematical impossibility.
Sean also points out the label had various misprints, including the misspelling of the word “vinegar,” and that the nutritional details are not readily available on the website — something that should be common sense for any food entrepreneur to include, and that possibly falls short of FDA packaging standards (there is a label that shows the product’s ingredients on the site, but you have to zoom in to see it, and it still contains the misprints pointed out by creators like Sean). Indeed, Chef Pii did not initially include ingredients on the label at all, saying in a video in June that her team was doing “quality testing to ensure that we get the best quality out to you guys to have minimum to no complaints,” without specifying in the video precisely what those ingredients were.
From there, the skepticism surrounding Pink Sauce continued to mount. One creator who had purchased a bottle of Pink Sauce for themselves claimed that not only was the product improperly packaged, but that it smelled “rotten” upon arrival and barely contained the advertised amount of Pink Sauce. Others pointed out that although Chef Pii listed milk as one of the ingredients for Pink Sauce, the label did not feature any directions regarding refrigeration, nor does the product label appear to include any preservatives to prevent spoilage as would be expected for most dressings.
At first, Chef Pii went somewhat on the defensive, saying in a video, “My apologies, I’m only human, I’m not perfect” and “this is a small business that is just moving really, really fast.” Regarding the label, she said that the “grams got mixed up with the serving size” on the label and that there are 444 grams of Pink Sauce per container, and that any products shipped out going forward would contain proper labels. She added that while her team is “following FDA standards,” she is currently in “lab testing,” which will enable her to pitch Pink Sauce to stores. The FDA also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it requires condiment manufacturers to register as a food facility and follow specific nutritional label guidelines, per its website.
In an interview with the Daily Dot, Chef Pii addressed some of the more specific allegations about Pink Sauce, such as the improper shipping procedures, saying the packages got “smushed” in transit and that she’d be switching to another shipping company. She also said Pink Sauce contains enough natural preservatives, such as citric acid and vinegar, to ensure that it could successfully withstand cross-country travel, and that she used 2% powdered milk, not whole milk. “I guess when you’re great, you can’t make a mistake, but, I mean, yeah. My team is working quickly to fix the issues,” she said. “We had some delays with getting into our facility and stuff like that. We had shipment issues. However, we’re working rapidly to fix all the problems.”
Indeed, part of what makes the outcry over Pink Sauce so notable is that many of the creators who have commented are careful to acknowledge the difficulties of being an entrepreneur and small business owner, particularly as a woman of color, while also pointing out the mistakes made along the way. Some creators have gone so far as to frame the story as an example of the Girl Boss trope run amok, or that it represents the apotheosis of social media scam culture. Far more likely, however, is the simple explanation that a small business owner, emboldened by a hypercharged TikTok algorithm and an audience primed to embrace weird and wacky food trends, simply grew too fast, and is paying the price now by becoming today’s Main Character.
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