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

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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.

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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15 Rich Facts About Fudge
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You probably know the basics about this decadent dessert: It's rich, it's creamy, and it comes in a variety of mouth-watering flavors. (Red velvet cake batter fudge? Yes please!) But there is plenty more fun trivia to digest. In honor of National Fudge Day, we’re serving up the sweetest morsels.

1. WHEN THE DESSERT WAS INVENTED, IT CHANGED THE PREVIOUS MEANING OF FUDGE.

In the late 17th century, fudge was a verb meaning "to fit together or adjust [clumsily]." Then around 1800, the word was used to mean a hoax or cheat. By mid-century, the use of the term “Oh, fudge!” as a kid-friendly expletive had come into favor, and was often used when something had been messed up. It’s believed that the first batch of fudge was created when someone was trying to make caramels and “fudged” up. The name stuck.

2. IT HAS STRONG TIES TO BALTIMORE.

The earliest origin story for fudge dates back to 1921, when Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, a former Vassar student, wrote a letter describing her introduction to the treat. She claims that while attending classes in 1886, a classmate's cousin living in Baltimore made the dessert, and this was her first knowledge of it. She also mentions a grocery store, probably in Baltimore, that sold fudge for 40 cents a pound.

3. THE TREAT BECAME WILDLY POPULAR AT VASSAR.

Two years after discovering fudge, Battersby Hartridge got ahold of the recipe and made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. In Vassar, The Alumnae/i Quarterly, they claim the sweet became so favored that “students would make it in the middle of the night, dangerously diverting the gas from their lamps for the task.”

4. STILL, IT TOOK A WHILE FOR COMPANIES TO MASS-PRODUCE IT.

Skuse’s Complete Confectioner was known as a guide for all things dessert—but the first editions of the book, printed in the late 1800s, didn’t include any recipes for fudge. In later editions, they made up for lost time, including recipes for rainbow fudge (food colorings), Mexican fudge (raisins, nuts, and coconut), maple fudge, and three types of chocolate fudge.

5. AMERICANS MAY HAVE STOLEN THE CONCEPT FROM THE SCOTS.

Fudge is thought to be a descendent of tablet—a medium-hard confection from Scotland. The two treats use similar ingredients, but fudge is richer, softer, and slightly less grainy than its European cousin.

6. THERE'S A WORLD RECORD FOR THE LARGEST SLAB.

The 5760-pound behemoth was crafted at the Northwest Fudge Factory in Ontario, Canada in 2010. It reportedly took a full week to make, and while ingredients aren't available for this record, the previous record holder contained 705 pounds of butter, 2800 pounds of chocolate, and 305 gallons of condensed milk.

7. MAKING FUDGE TAKES SOME SCIENCE.

Early fudge recipes were prone to disaster, with one 1902 magazine explaining "fudge is one of the most difficult confections to make properly." With candy thermometers not becoming commonplace for several years, most recipes required boiling and hoping for the best. Eventually more foolproof recipes were created that included corn syrup (which helps prevent the crystallization that can result in a gritty texture) and condensed milk or marshmallow crème.

8. IT'S NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT THAN FONDANT.

Fudge is actually a drier version of fondant—not the stiff, malleable kind so often seen on cake decorating shows, but the kind found in candies like peppermint patties and cherry cordials. 

9. A TINY ISLAND IN MICHIGAN CONSIDERS ITSELF THE FUDGE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.

There are upwards of a dozen fudge shops on 4.35-square mile Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. (Permanent population on the tourist destination: just shy of 500, per the 2010 census.) The oldest candy shop on the island, Murdick’s Candy Kitchen, opened in 1887, while May's Candy claims to be the oldest fudge shop.

10. MACKINAC ISLAND CRANKS OUT OVER 10,000 POUNDS OF FUDGE DAILY DURING PEAK SEASON.

For production, fudge makers ship in about 10 tons of sugar each week and roughly 10 tons of butter each year. Every August, the island hosts the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, complete with events like Fudge on the Rocks, where local bartenders craft fudge-y libations.

11. FIRST LADY MAMIE EISENHOWER WAS A HUGE FUDGE FAN.

She even crafted her own recipe—named Mamie’s Million-Dollar Fudge—which her husband, Ike, quite liked. It included chopped nuts and marshmallow crème.

12. THE HOT FUDGE SUNDAE WAS CREATED IN HOLLYWOOD.

C.C. Brown’s, an iconic ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard, was credited for dreaming up the idea to drizzle melted fudge over ice cream in 1906 (earlier sundaes had other syrups, like cherry). Sadly, the shop closed in 1996, but the treat remains popular.

13. THE BRITS HAD A SWEET NAME FOR FUDGE.

A description of fudge, found in the 1920 tome Harmsworth’s Household Encyclopedia, read, “A sweetmeat that hails from America, but is now popular in other countries.” (To be fair, in the UK the term "sweetmeat” is applied to a variety of sweet treats.)

14. AT ONE POINT, YOU COULD BUY A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF FUDGE.

Harry Ryba, known as the fudge king of Mackinac Island, once offered to mail out a lifetime supply of the candy—three pounds a month—to any customer willing to pay $2250 upfront. “A lifetime, being yours or mine, whichever ends sooner,” he said, per The New York Times. Not a bad deal, considering he passed away at age 88.

15. FUDGE CAN KEEP FOR A LONG TIME.

Airtight packages of the confection can be frozen and stored up to a year without losing any flavor, which means that you can feel free to give in to temptation and buy a larger chunk while on vacation this year. And about that lifetime supply…

All images via iStock.

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