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National Soft Ice Cream Day

Mister Softee, Dairy Queen, and Carvel may all come to mind when you think of soft ice cream, also known as soft serve, the most popular ice cream in the United States. Lucky for us, it's National Soft Ice Cream Day, so it's perfectly acceptable to indulge in a little or a lot of it today!

The first references to soft ice cream appear in the first half of the twentieth century. Stories conflict to its origin, with both Carvel and Dairy Queen laying claim to inventing it. The Carvel story says that on Memorial Day in 1934, the truck that Tom Carvel had been selling ice cream out of got a flat tire. Instead of trying to find a way home, he pulled his trailer into a nearby pottery store parking lot and continued to sell his ice cream. After being out so long, his ice cream started to melt, and he began telling customers that the partially-melted ice cream was a new type of dessert. His ice cream became a hit and he continued to sell it. He opened the first Carvel store that year. Carvel ice cream contains egg yolks, so technically it's custard.

Dairy Queen claims that founder J.F. McCullough and his son, Alex, invented soft ice cream in the mid-1930s. The pair had been making hard ice cream, but made some new ice cream where they changed its temperature from -5°F to 23°F, which McCullough thought brought out its flavor. They continued to experiment, and used 5% or 6% butterfat instead of 10%, and settled on 18°F for the temperature. In 1939, they purchased a machine from someone selling frozen custard, reconfigured it, and opened Dairy Queen in 1940, where they sold their soft ice cream.

Today's soft serve ice cream has similar properties to the early incarnations. It is light and smooth, which can be attributed to the high percentage of air in it. There is more air in soft serve than in regular ice cream: soft serve is made up of about 40% to 45% air, while typical frozen ice cream has less than 30%. Soft serve is warmer than regular ice cream, which can be attributed to the amount of air in it. Soft serve is around 21°F, while regular ice cream is around 10°F. Soft serve is also relatively low in fat. It is usually made with between 3% and 6% butterfat, while regular ice cream has at least 10% butterfat. An exception to this is Mister Softee, which sells a 10% butterfat variety.

A special machine is used to make soft serve ice cream. The soft serve mix arrives at stores or restaurants in one of two ways: powdered mix or liquid. The powdered mix is more common and cheaper and is reconstituted with water. Packets of flavoring, such as chocolate or vanilla, come in powder or liquid form and can be added. More premium soft serve is made with a pre-mixed liquid that comes in pouches. It allows for a more consistent product, but it usually needs to be refrigerated and has a shorter shelf life—approximately two months, compared to the year or year and a half shelf life of the powdered mix. The liquid mix may come in different flavors and contain chunks of chocolate, candy, or fruit.

The liquid is put into a compartment in a soft serve freezer. Some of the liquid goes into a freezing cylinder, which has a beater with a scraper blade. The liquid is frozen while air is beat into it, and ice cream is made in about 15 minutes. When getting soft serve from the machine, a handle is lifted which lifts the door to the freezing cylinder. At the same time, more of the liquid is let into the freezing cylinder. Grab a cone or dish, lift the handle, and get yourself some soft serve ice cream, it's National Soft Ice Cream Day!

How to Observe National Soft Ice Cream Day

Celebrate the day with some soft serve ice cream! You could stop to get some at a tried-and-true establishment such as Carvel, Dairy Queen, Mister Softee, or perhaps at a revered local ice cream shop. Check for deals related to today's holiday at any place you stop. If you are feeling extra festive, you could get your own soft serve ice cream machine and make your own ice cream.

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