Mukbang Mania: Inside the Internet’s Massive Appetite for Extreme Eating
When you go to Buffalo Wild Wings, you might decide between Honey BBQ and Lemon Pepper. When Nick Perry goes to B-Dubs, he decides how much food he can physically fit in his stomach.
Perry, better known by his online alias Nikocado Avocado, is an internet sensation with nearly 6 million combined subscribers across multiple YouTube channels. But he’s not your typical content creator: he’s America’s most popular mukbang streamer, which basically means he’s famous for his ability to eat mind-boggling amounts of food.
For example, his “$100 Worth of Buffalo Wild Wings” mukbang features a spread that includes a box of cheese curds, four boxes of boneless wings, a double cheeseburger, fries, and multiple cups of what appear to be liquid cheese.
There are hundreds of mukbang channels on YouTube and these types of videos are getting more popular by the day. Perplexed? You’re not alone. America may be known for epic portion sizes and show biz, but this extreme eating trend started overseas.
What Is a Mukbang?
A mukbang is an eating show where a host cooks/buys and consumes massive amounts of food for their audience’s viewing pleasure. Mukbang (or meokbang) is a combination of two Korean words: “eating” (meongneun) and “broadcast” (bangsong).
In simple terms, it’s a video of someone binge-eating. But we say binge-eating, we’re talking about more than scarfing down an XL pizza. We’re talking about banquet-sized platters big enough to feed a family of four—and the videos can last up to an hour.
Mukbang videos can be live-streamed or pre-recorded and shared on social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. Some mukbang vloggers narrate their meals or engage with viewers in real-time. Others are completely silent, giving viewers no other option but to focus solely on their eating habits.
Some people lump mukbang videos into the category of eating contests, but that’s not exactly accurate. There are endless food challenge videos online, like the 20,000 calorie burger challenge and the people who try to eat Wendy’s entire menu in one sitting.
Mukbang, by contrast, is more about creating an intimate connection with viewers. The purpose of a mukbang isn’t to see how fast or even how much you can eat—it’s how well you can captivate your audience.
The History of Mukbang
Mukbang videos originated in South Korea in 2009. They first appeared on the video-streaming service AfreecaTV, but today they can be found on South Korean cable channels, just like any other food show.
In Korea, mukbang streamers are called broadcast jockeys (or BJs) and ultra-popular ones like Banzz are on the same level as movie stars and athletes.
Some people call Korea’s mukbang craze ironic considering the culture’s reputation for healthy eating and dining etiquette. But the combination of dirt-cheap production costs and consumer demand makes mukbangs a no-brainer from an economic standpoint.
Over the past decade, mukbang videos have gained popularity across the world, especially in the United States. However, Korean mukbangs tend to be different from the American variety.
American Mukbang vs. Korean Mukbang
American YouTubers like Nikocado Avocado and his frequent collaborator Hungry Fatchick are known for their charisma and humor as much as their ability to devour large quantities of food. But the Americanized mukbang (you might call it a “McMukbang”) has a very different vibe than Korean mukbangs.
“The process of a real Korean mukbang video is that you do not speak,” explains California-based mukbanger Ashley Sprankles. For instance, the Korean mukbanger Eat with Boki (who has nearly eight million YouTube subscribers) doesn’t utter a single word during her videos.
That doesn’t mean she’s quiet, though. Her videos typically entail ten minutes of spine-tingling slurping, chewing, and crunching noises. In fact, those sounds might be the reason why mukbang videos are irresistible to millions of people.
Why are Mukbang Videos So Popular?
The psychology behind the mukbang mania is complicated. However, we came up with a few theories behind fans’ insatiable appetite for mukbang videos.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is the pleasant, tingling sensation you might feel when you hear certain sounds, including hair brushing, playing with bubble wrap, whispering—and of course eating sounds.
ASMR has been described as “low-grade euphoria” so it’s no wonder people can’t get enough of it.
You don’t need a medical degree to know that eating the entire menu at Taco Bell won’t do your waistline any favors. But for some people, watching someone else do it satisfies their cravings without the calories.
“It’s like binge eating without the calories,” said one YouTube commenter.
People can get turned on by just about anything, even something as simple as the act of eating. In a 2020 study titled The Psychology of Mukbang Watching, researchers hypothesized that one of the top reasons why men tune into these epic eating videos is because it makes them horny.
But we digress.
It’s doubtful that mukbangers care why people want to watch them consume five pounds of ramen noodles or 10,000 calories’ worth of burgers. They’re all about the money, honey.
How Much Money do Mukbang Stars Make?
As with most internet celebrities, mukbang stars have brand sponsorships, lucrative merch lines, and plenty of advertising revenue from their YouTube videos. Not to mention they can rake in even more cash from monetization platforms like Cameo and Patreon.
The bigger the appetite, the bigger the checks.
Nikocado Avocado’s net worth has been estimated between $1-4 million. Of course, he’s at the top of the food chain (pun totally intended). There are probably countless newcomers hoping to rack up enough views to pay rent.
We’re not sure where the mukbang mania will lead us in the coming years. Considering Nikocado Avocado (allegedly) had a heart attack, the trend may not be sustainable. All we know is these people are gonna need a buttload of wipes to handle the aftermath.