Häagen-Dazs Sounds Fancy, But What Does It Really Mean?

With premium flavors like White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle and Vanilla Swiss Almond, not to mention a brand logo that looks like a royal crest and a name that practically melts in your mouth, Häagen-Dazs has all the qualities of a storied European company. Perhaps it began in a quaint Danish village, from a recipe passed down through the Häagen family. Or perhaps Häagen-Dazs translates to something decadent, like “Delicious Memory” or “Pint of Happiness.” Maybe it’s Danish for “Screw Your Diet.”

Nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Turns out, the official ice cream of binge-watching Netflix on the couch began not in an Alpine village but in the Bronx. And that fancy name with the umlaut dangling over it? Completely meaningless.

The real story behind Häagen-Dazs is about good old-fashioned American determination and marketing. The founder, Reuben Mattus, immigrated to the U.S. from Belarus as a child in 1921 along with his mother, Lea, and sister. After settling in Brooklyn, Reuben and Lea went to work for her brother, who owned an Italian ice company. Each day, the two would squeeze lemons to make the ices, then peddle them around the neighborhood using a horse-pulled wagon. This was back in the days before refrigeration, so the ice had to be shaved by hand from huge blocks that had been shipped in during the wintertime from Lake Michigan. Despite the labor-intensive process, mother and son prospered, and by 1929 Lea had saved up enough money to open her own company, Senator Frozen Products. Reuben went to work for Senator in the Bronx, selling ice pops, ice cream bars, and ice cream sandwiches, and for more than two decades, he helped the company turn a tidy profit year after year. In 1936, he got married and bought into the family business.

Following World War II, more people began shopping at grocery stores, where large ice cream makers dominated the freezer cases. This didn’t bode well for small outfits like Senator. Mattus knew that the company, which primarily sold to candy stores and luncheonettes, couldn’t compete with the big guys on price, and he wasn’t confident it could compete on quality, either. For years, he’d been pushing his mother to upgrade Senator’s ice cream to a more premium formula—one that had less air and more butterfat. And for years, Lea had turned him down, arguing that the family needed to stick to what it did best.

Frustrated, Mattus—whose expertise was more on the sales and marketing side of the business—began researching ice cream making on his own.

“The first thing I told my mother was to fire our ice cream maker,” Mattus told writer Joan Nathan.

By the 1950s, Senator had taken enough of a beating in the marketplace that Lea relented, allowing Mattus to develop a premium brand he called Ciro’s. It was the first Senator product to enter the supermarket arena, and for two years it sold quite well—so well, in fact, that it got the attention of the big manufacturers, who attempted to squeeze it off the shelves.

“When the large companies found out I was infringing on them, they almost put me out of business,” Mattus told The New York Times in 1983. “It was a question of my finding some niche in the business and not getting in any conflicts with them.”

That niche, Mattus felt, was a super-premium ice cream that would offer more flavor for more money. Where other manufacturers were focused on cheapness and efficiency, he would go upscale. It was a risky idea, but Mattus was confident that people would pay more for a better-tasting treat. For a while, Mattus worked on his recipe, honing the texture and the flavor until he got it just right. He bought all new equipment and prepared to start his own company with his wife, Rose, who worked as a bookkeeper for Senator, as his business partner.

As a marketing man, though, Mattus knew that success would take more than just hard work and great tasting ice cream. His new brand needed to have cachet—that air of exclusivity that would elevate it above its roots as a small, striving company from the Bronx.

Or, to put it another way: “The number one thing was to get a foreign sounding name,” Mattus told Nathan.

In a PBS documentary from 1999, Mattus’s daughter Doris recalled her father sitting at the kitchen table late one night pronouncing various made-up names, trying to come up with one that sounded right. Mattus himself would say he wanted the name to sound Danish, since it seemed fancy, and because he wanted to acknowledge Denmark for its kindness toward the Jews during World War II. The title he eventually settled on, Häagen-Dazs, was essentially gibberish—the Danish language doesn’t even use an umlaut over the letter a. But what did that matter to the American ice cream consumer? Mattus forged ahead with the idea, even printing maps of Scandinavia on the first tubs. In 1959 he and Rose established their company, and in 1961, Häagen-Dazs hit stores with three flavors: chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Mattus’s premium ingredients were key: the chocolate came from Belgium, the vanilla from Madagascar, and the coffee from Colombia. Where other brands typically sold for around 50 cents a pint, Häagen-Dazs sold for 75.

The gamble paid off. By the 1970s, pints of Häagen-Dazs were in supermarkets and convenience stores across the country. In 1976, Doris took charge of the first branded ice cream shop, starting a chain of openings that has led to more than 900 stores in 50 different countries. The little company from the Bronx had entered the big, complex world of global food: In 1983, Pillsbury bought Häagen-Dazs, and in 2001 General Mills absorbed Pillsbury, then sold North American licensing rights for the ice cream brand to Nestlé. Today, it’s one of the best-selling ice cream brands in the world.

Interestingly, Häagen-Dazs’s success has spawned other fancy-sounding brands over the years. There was Alpen Zauber (“Alpine Magic,” in German), which touted a “Swiss commitment to excellence” despite being made in Brooklyn, and Früsen Gladjé (Swedish for “Frozen Delight”), which cultivated an over-the-top luxury image, with marketing materials calling it “the ice cream that appeals to the sybaritic buyer with a taste for the very finest” (it was manufactured in Utica, New York).

What’s in a name, after all? Not much, judging by the fact that nonsensical Häagen-Dazs is still on shelves while its imitators have been relegated to old news stories and Wikipedia. Rather, the success of the company Reuben Mattus started more than 50 years ago seems to stem from a continued focus on sourcing premium ingredients and leaving out all the fake stuff. Even though it's owned by the same company that makes Trix cereal and Totino’s pizza rolls, Häagen-Dazs still abstains from using artificial flavors, preservatives, or stabilizers.

So while the name might not technically mean anything, it's certainly recognizable. And as Mattus (who passed away in 1994) so correctly predicted, that's really all that matters.

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Apeel
New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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iStock
The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
iStock
iStock

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
iStock

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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