The Amazing History of Soft Serve

Do you love soft serve ice cream? Are you looking for some used ice cream machines to set up a shop of your own? A soft serve ice cream machine can be a great moneymaker whether you’re setting up an ice cream shop or just adding an ice cream machine to your current business. Whatever your relationship to ice cream, you’re sure to be fascinated by the sometimes strange and always delicious history of soft serve ice cream.

Where Did It Come From?

These days you can find used ice cream machines everywhere, but soft serve itself is a fairly recent invention. Two different sources claim to have the original soft serve ice cream.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen claims that its founder, J.F. McCullough, invented this type of ice cream in the 1930s. McCullough would churn his ice cream and then freeze it hard, but he himself tended to like it soft fresh from the ice cream churner. His family was convinced that their customers would, too, so they started selling soft ice cream. Whether or not McCullough was actually the first to do it, it’s definitely true that they were one of the first to popularize it and to figure out that less frozen ice cream developed a better flavor profile. They adjusted the recipe until they found the ideal amount of butterfat for soft serve.


Carvel also claims to be the first to sell soft serve ice cream. Tom Carvel sold regular hard ice cream and, like McCullough, appears to have stumbled upon the glories of soft ice cream by accident. He was delivering regular hard ice cream when his truck suffered a flat tire. Realizing that his ice cream was melting, he pulled into a parking lot and began serving the partially melted ice cream as a new type. It was such a hit that he started doing it regularly. The first Carvel store opened in 1934: six years before the first Dairy Queen in 1940. However, McCollough and his sons were selling soft serve long before they opened the first DQ, so the title of the official first inventor of soft serve is still up for grabs.

How Do You Make It?

Whether you use used ice cream machines or a brand-new Taylor soft serve ice cream machine, the process is the same.

The Mix

The cheapest soft serve is distributed in powder form. This powdered mix is mixed with tap water and flavoring powders or liquid flavorings are added to change the base flavor, which is vanilla or chocolate, into other unique flavors.

The more premium stuff is distributed in a premixed liquid form. It normally contains real pieces of whatever flavor it is, from chunks of chocolate to pieces of fruit or vanilla bean. The premium usually costs more because it has a shorter shelf life and must be refrigerated throughout shipping.

Mixing It Up

Those used ice cream machines all work in basically the same way. The mix, whether it’s been reconstituted with water or has come in liquid form already, gets poured into a holding compartment within the soft serve ice cream machine. It is then frozen as air is beaten into it with a blade. It takes about 15 minutes for enough air to be incorporated and for the mix to get cold enough to be served as a soft ice cream. Whenever ice cream is dispensed, more of the liquid mix drops into the machine to replace it.

What’s It Made From?

Of course, most soft serve ice cream includes some sort of dairy product. There are a few that contain no dairy at all, but these are fairly rare. Almost all soft serve in the United States contains corn syrup unless otherwise indicated. Some premium brands will use sugar only. In addition, soft serve contains a large number of preservatives, thickeners, and texture enhancers. These typically include carrageenan, a thickening agent that makes the ice cream smoother, and mono and diglycerides, which are modified facts that help to bind together all the ingredients and keep the consistency even throughout the mix.

Whatever is in it, there’s no doubt that we love our ice cream. In fact, it’s probably time for a cone right now.

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