CLOSE
iStock
iStock

15 Things You Might Not Know About Ben & Jerry's

iStock
iStock

You know which flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream is your favorite, and whether you prefer to eat it from a bowl or straight out of the pint. But there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the company that turned Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey into household names. Here are 15 things you might not know about Ben & Jerry’s.

1. THE COMPANY WAS LAUNCHED WITH A $5 CORRESPONDENCE COURSE.

Considering the popularity of Ben & Jerry’s products worldwide, it’s hard to believe that co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the business by spending a mere $5 on a correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State. From there, they pooled $8000—and borrowed another $4000—to open their first ice cream shop, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont.

2. CO-FOUNDER BEN COHEN HAS NO SENSE OF SMELL.


Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Ben & Jerry's

Cohen—the "Ben" in Ben & Jerry’s—suffers from anosmia, meaning that he has almost no sense of smell. It’s for that very reason that Ben & Jerry’s flavors are so rich. If he couldn’t taste a recipe, he’d just add more flavoring.

3. EMPLOYEES GET A PINT ALLOTMENT.

Working at Ben & Jerry’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont has its perks—like a take-home allowance of three pints of ice cream per day! Fortunately, the office also has a fully equipped gym. They also have a yoga instructor and an occasional massage therapist. (No wonder they also need a nap room.)

4. MOST FLAVORS START WITH THE SAME BASE.


Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Ben & Jerry's

The base for most of Ben & Jerry's flavors is the same: a mix of milk, cream, liquid sugar, egg yolks, and water. But there are a couple of variations that have different fat and sugar levels. Choosing which to start with depends on what’s going to be added in. If a recipe calls for something high fat, like peanut butter, it starts with a lower fat base. "If you’re at too high a fat level, once you freeze it, you’re going to end up with concrete; it’s not going to come out of the machine," former Flavor Guru Kirsten Schimoler told Mental Floss. "If they’re adding something sweet, like caramel, they use one with lower sugar."

5. IT CAN TAKE MORE THAN A YEAR TO DEVELOP A NEW FLAVOR.

While it might seem like new flavors of Ben & Jerry’s are popping up in the freezer of your local grocery store all the time, each new flavor goes through a rigorous process before being launched to the public. According to one of the company’s Flavor Gurus, the average development cycle of a new pint is about 12 to 14 months.

6. SCHWEDDY BALLS, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS DEVELOPED IN RECORD TIME.

While, in general, it can take a year or more for a new Ben & Jerry's flavor to go from concept to grocery store freezers, Schweddy Balls—a flavor inspired by Alec Baldwin's classic Saturday Night Live holiday skit—made it to market in a record four months when it was released for the 2011 holiday season. Unfortunately, the flavor—vanilla ice cream with a bit of rum and fudge-covered rum and malt balls—has since been retired.

7. YOU CAN PAY TRIBUTE TO YOUR FAVORITE DEARLY DEPARTED FLAVORS AT BEN & JERRY’S FLAVOR GRAVEYARD.


Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

Speaking of discontinued flavors: True devotees of the beloved B&J brand can pay a visit to the company’s Flavor Graveyard at their factory in Waterbury, Vermont. Yes, it’s an actual graveyard where dozens of now-discontinued flavors, which they refer to as the "dearly depinted," have their very own headstones with clever epitaphs. Sugar Plum’s, for example, states that: "It swirled in our heads, it danced in our dreams, it proved not to be though, the best of ice creams."

8. THE FLAVOR GRAVEYARD HAS A COUPLE OF ZOMBIES.

Just because a flavor is dead and buried in the Flavor Graveyard doesn't mean it can’t come back to life. After a decade of strong sales, Ben & Jerry’s reluctantly had to retire White Russian in 1996, but not because it wasn't popular. The cost of the Kahlua-like flavoring that was used in its production became too prohibitive. But the customers spoke and White Russian was eventually resurrected, but only in Scoop Shops (sorry grocery store customers).

9. SOMETIMES THE NAME DICTATES THE FLAVOR.


Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

It doesn't happen often, but on a few occasions, the company has come up with a new flavor name before developing the flavor itself. This is what happened with Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt, based on Tina Fey's 30 Rock character. "They knew they wanted to do a Liz Lemon flavor but didn't know what they wanted it to be," Schimoler said. "We looked at so many different lemon flavors."

10. EACH YEAR, THE FLAVOR GURUS MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO A FORWARD-THINKING FOOD CITY.

In order to stay ahead of the flavor curve, they’ll spend 12 hours a day tasting offerings from food venues of all types, hitting as many as 10 spots a day. The inspiration for the aforementioned Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt? A blueberry-lavender cocktail in San Francisco.

11. CUSTOMERS PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN DECIDING NEW FLAVORS.


Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

Each year, the company receives about 13,000 suggestions for new flavors from beloved pint-devourers the world over. The team reviews each and every submission for consideration and to look for recurring themes or flavor suggestions, which can be invaluable in developing new crave-worthy pints. Some of the company's most iconic flavors were born from customer feedback, including Cherry Garcia, which was suggested by two Deadheads from Portland, Maine. The flavor spent more than a decade at the top of the list of favorite flavors.

12. NOT EVERY FLAVOR CAN BE FOUND IN YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORE.

Not every flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream comes in a pint or is available at your local grocery store. The company regularly creates flavors exclusively for a single retailer or specific to one geographic location (Canada, for example, has If I Had 1,000,000 Flavours, a multiflavored ice cream that the company created in collaboration with Barenaked Ladies). The Scoop Shops carry exclusive flavors, too—like Maccha Made in Heaven (Maccha green tea ice cream with caramelized pecans), which is popular in Tokyo.

13. THERE'S ONE INGREDIENT THAT WILL NEVER MAKE IT INTO A PINT. 

Though bacon is among among one of the most requested items that customers have for the Ben & Jerry's team, it won’t be making its way into a pint near you. The reason? Ben & Jerry's plants are kosher.

14. KALE ICE CREAM WON'T BE HAPPENING EITHER.

The company has a long list of regular vendors for things like chocolate and caramel, but there's an even longer list of snack peddlers hoping to sell their ingredients in a pint of ice cream, including one very persistent proponent of kale chips. Though the R&D team did attempt to implement the healthful ingredient into a batch of ice cream, the flavor gurus don't imagine that it would be a hot seller, noting that, "No one wants to sit down with a pint of Kale Ben & Jerry's."

15. BEN & JERRY'S ALSO COMES IN BEER FORM.


New Belgium Brewing

For ice cream lovers who prefer to guzzle the sweet stuff, Ben & Jerry's has regularly collaborated with Colorado's New Belgium Brewing to create beers that replicate the ice cream’s delicious flavors. The partnership kicked off in 2015 with a Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, and last fall they came up with a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods
iStock
iStock

A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.

 
 

The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag
iStock

For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”

 
 

All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips
iStock

Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.

 
 

According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip
iStock

But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
environment
London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware
iStock
iStock

Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios