That Frozen Treat From Dairy Queen? Not Really Ice Cream

Dairy Queen Blizzard
The Blizzard is Dairy Queen's best-selling frozen treat, despite technically not being ice cream. Dairy Queen

There's a big secret hiding in plain sight within the walls of one of America's most beloved fast-food chains. Dairy Queen — purveyors of the legendary Blizzard — doesn't actually sell ice cream.

Wait, what? Dairy Queen doesn't sell ice cream? Technically no. Not according to regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), anyway.


Those strict FDA guidelines mean Dairy Queen's famous frozen treats can't be classified as ice cream. That's why the chain uses the term "soft serve" instead. While this dessert discovery may be a bombshell to you, Dairy Queen has not only recognized, but also embraced it throughout its 75-year history

It has to do with the content of milk fat. The FDA says to be considered an "ice cream" the product must contain "not less than 10 percent milkfat, nor less than 10 percent nonfat milk solids." Dairy Queen's soft serve, well, just doesn't.

Dairy Queen does a good job of explaining on its website why it doesn't (can't?) use the term ice cream on its menu: "To be categorized as ice cream, the minimum butterfat content must be 10 percent, and our soft serve has only 5 percent butterfat content." And even though the FDA has changed its definition of what qualifies as ice cream over the years, Dairy Queen's soft serve recipe has always stayed the same.

Dairy Queen goes on to say that, while their soft serve contains only 5 percent butterfat, that doesn't mean it is 95 percent fat-free. (Wishful thinking, right?) Regardless of what the chain calls its desserts (Blizzards, Royal, etc.) Dairy Queen is legally obligated to label the frozen stuff inside as something other than ice cream, hence soft serve — a name that's sprinkled (pun intended) with its own controversy.

Both Carvel and DQ claim to have invented the term, but it was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who was once believed to be a soft-serve pioneer. After her death in 2013, The New Yorker published an article explaining how the myth began:

The frozen-dessert origin myth goes like this: shortly after graduating from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry, Margaret Roberts, the future Mrs. Thatcher, worked briefly at the food conglomerate J. Lyons & Company, where she helped devise a method for whipping extra air into ice cream that laid the foundation for modern soft-serve. The innovation spread thanks to Mr. Whippy, a chain of British ice-cream trucks that paved the way for today's hawkers of towering cones pierced with Cadbury Flake bars, and became popular worldwide.

However, The New York Times points back at Dairy Queen founder J.F. McCullough and Carvel founder Tom Carvel as the real pioneers, allegedly seeing their new frozen treat "at a friend's ice cream shop in Kankakee, Illinois... [where] 1,600 people paid 10 cents for all they could eat of his newfangled treat." At the very least, this is one mystery that is worth a taste.


Dairy Queen Ice Cream FAQs

Does Dairy Queen use real ice cream?
Dairy Queen's soft serve can't legally be called ice cream according to FDA regulations. It sounds silly, but the recipe doesn't include enough milkfat meet the FDA's official qualifications to be deemed as an ice cream.
What is Dairy Queen ice cream called?
Because it can't legally call it's frozen treat ice cream, Dairy Queen instead calls it soft serve.
Do you get a free Blizzard at Dairy Queen if they don't flip it?
Yes. This is part of Dairy Queen's long-standing "Upside Down or Free" campaign. If the server doesn't hand you your blizzard upside down to show you how thick it is, Dairy Queen will give you a coupon for a free Blizzard on your next visit.
Does Dairy Queen have a secret menu?
Yes. It includes sundaes, ice cream cones, Blizzards, milkshakes and more that you won't find on the original menu. Just ask if they have the ingredients and they'll usually whip it up for you.
What flavor dipped cones does Dairy Queen have?
Dairy Queen offers several dipped cone flavors: chocolate and butterscotch are the two most popular. However, they just started offereing a bright blue shell aptly named Cotton Candy that is fast becoming a favorite, too.