Why Are Dairy Queen Blizzards Served Upside Down?

Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen

It’s part lactose performance art, part boastfulness, and mostly awkward. Walk into any one of Dairy Queen’s 6000-plus U.S. locations (or up to a window) and there’s a very good chance your server will hand you a Blizzard—their soft serve treat packed with chunks of candy, cookies, baked goods, or fruit—upside-down, the spoon handle facing the floor.

A ritual since the national debut of the dessert in 1985, the eccentric hand-off has been questioned, puzzled over, and was even part of a nationwide promotion in 2016: If an employee failed to adhere to the policy, customers received a coupon for a free Blizzard. (Many outposts still offer a free Blizzard if yours isn't served upside down, but it's up to each franchise owner to determine whether or not it's a standard policy.)

If you’ve ever wondered why they do it, you can credit an obnoxious 14-year-old kid in St. Louis.

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Like most restaurant chains, Dairy Queen has often relied on its franchisees to help shape its menu. Founded in 1940 to capitalize on the soft serve ice cream phenomenon, the brand was fortunate enough to attract the attention of St. Louis businessman Sam Temperato, who owned dozens of locations and proved to be a steady fountain of ideas. His Full Meal Deal, which packaged a burger, fries, drink, and sundae for one flat price, was a hit. So was his notion to add chili dogs to the menu's lineup.

In the 1970s, Temperato took notice of a custard stand operated by Ted Drewes Jr., a locally-owned operation that managed to hold its own against the marketing onslaught of Temperato’s Dairy Queen by peddling frozen treats Drewes referred to as “concrete,” ultra-thick shakes with bits of fruit mixed in. Drewes served them upside-down to customers to prove it wasn’t some watered-down concoction. The glob of custard was so dense it would hold the spoon in place and remain inside the serving cup.

That finishing touch was the result of a run-in Drewes had with 14-year-old customer Steve Gamber back in 1959. Gamber had been biking to Drewes’s stand for a sandwich and chocolate malt nearly every day. Each time, he’d demand Drewes make the malt thicker.

Finally, "just to shut me up," Gamber recalled, Drewes handed him a malt so solid he could turn it upside down without risking spillage. “Is that thick enough for you?” Drewes asked.

This practice did not escape the attention of Temperato, who went to Dairy Queen executives in 1983 with the idea for a soft serve concoction made with fruit or crunched-up candy bar chunks, a practice he had seen in another local stand called Huckleberry’s. (Drewes refused to use candy in his custards.) After executives visited St. Louis and saw the lines at Drewes’s locations, they signed off on the Blizzard, using a trademarked name they had owned since the 1950s.

Dairy Queen owner Warren Buffett marvels at the Blizzard's gravity-defying properties. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

At the time, the thought of candy mixed with soft serve was a novel concept, and not one that was met with total enthusiasm. Mars, which owns the M&Ms and Snickers candy brands, refused to ship Dairy Queen broken-up pieces for the Blizzard; so did Oreo. But once Dairy Queen rang up sales of nearly 100 million Blizzards in 1985 alone, the brands had a change of heart. Blizzards have been a staple of Dairy Queen’s menu ever since.

Temperato, who freely admitted the inspiration he derived from both Drewes and Huckleberry’s, was showered with praise for boosting company revenues by 15 to 17 percent. The McDonald's McFlurry and Friendly’s Cyclone followed, both attempting to capitalize on the frozen phenomenon. But only the Blizzard—born of "concrete" custard—is served upside down.

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

Cheese Made from Celebrities' Microbes Is On View at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

iStock/bhofack2
iStock/bhofack2

London's Victoria & Albert Museum is home to such artifacts as ancient Chinese ceramics, notebooks belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander McQueen's evening dresses—all objects you might expect to see in a world-famous museum. However, the cultural significance of the selection of cheeses now on display at the museum is less obvious. The edible items, part of a new exhibition called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, were cultured from human bacteria swabbed from celebrities.

Though most diners may prefer not to think about it, bacteria is an essential ingredient in many popular foods. Beer, bread, chocolate, and cheese all depend on microbes for their signature flavors. Scientists took this ick factor one step further by sourcing bacteria from the human body to make cheese for the new exhibit.

Smell researcher Sissel Tolaas and biologist/artist Christina Agapakis first conceived their human bacteria cheese project, titled Selfmade, in 2013. When a chef and team of scientists recreated it for the Victoria & Albert Museum, they found famous figures to donate their germs. Blur bassist Alex James, chef Heston Blumenthal, rapper Professor Green, Madness frontman Suggs, and The Great British Baking Show contestant Ruby Tandoh all signed up for the project.

A display of the human-microbe cheese at Victoria & Albert museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Once the celebrities' noses, armpits, and belly buttons were swabbed, their microbiome samples were used to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds were then pressed into a variety of cheeses: James's swab was used to make Cheshire cheese; Blumenthal's, comté; Professor Green's, mozzarella; Suggs's, cheddar; Tandoh's, stilton.

The cheeses are being sequenced in the lab to determine if they're safe for human consumption. But even if they don't contain any harmful bacteria, they won't be served on anyone's cheese plates. Instead. they're being kept in a refrigerated display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Museum-goers can catch the cheeses and the rest of the items spotlighted in FOOD: Bigger Than the Plate from now through October 20, 2019.

The Reason Why We Pour Milk Over Cereal

iStock.com/tomasworks
iStock.com/tomasworks

Sometimes, if a movie or television show wants to communicate how unusual a character is, they’ll depict them pouring a box of cereal into a bowl and then adding some kind of disgusting liquid—orange juice, water, coffee, possibly alcohol. This is an easy way to illustrate someone's eccentricity because everyone knows only milk goes in cold cereal. With no exceptions. Even warm milk, which a small number of individuals enjoy, has to be more palatable than the alternatives.

But is milk the acceptable choice for cereal because it’s the best, or because of something else? Is there a reason we don’t simply drown Frosted Flakes in water and call it a day?

The state of our cereal bowls can be traced to the origins of cereal itself. Back in the mid-1800s, Americans were enjoying very hearty breakfasts of bacon, eggs, meat, and other foods that could easily show up on their dinner plates. Many complained of gastrointestinal upset, a condition that health experts (many of them self-appointed) began to refer to as dyspepsia. This ill-defined malady was thought to be the result of consuming massive meals in the morning. Advocates argued that breakfast should be lighter and healthier, comprised of what they considered simple and easily digestible foods.

One such proselytizer was James Caleb Jackson, a vegetarian who ran a sanitarium called Our Home on the Hillside in Dansville, New York. At the time, sanitariums for health were considered retreats and a way to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits. Jackson was a follower of Reverend Sylvester Graham, the inventor of graham crackers and a man who believed the crackers could help curb sexual appetites that flamed in the meat-eating population. In the 1870s, Jackson began to market a product he called granula—graham flour that was baked, crumbled, and baked a second time. The tiny pebbles of flour were hearty and filling.

There’s some debate over whether it was Jackson or his mother, Lucretia, who actually came up with granula. In her son’s newsletters dating back to 1867, Lucretia published recipes for what amounted to the same thing. But whichever Jackson came up with it, there was a problem: Eaten dry, the granula was like trying to swallow construction rubble. In the newsletter, Lucretia cautioned that the cereal had to be soaked in milk or warm water, presumably to make it palatable. Other accounts of granula have consumers soaking it in milk overnight in order to make it chewable. People sometimes referred to it as “wheat rocks.”

Granula developed a following, but it wasn’t until another sanitarium owner named John Harvey Kellogg mimicked the recipe that it truly caught on. Kellogg, who owned the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, offered granula for its purported health benefits but referred to it as granola to avoid any legal entanglements with Jackson. By 1889, Kellogg was selling two tons of granola a week. By 1903, more than 100 cereal companies were operating out of Battle Creek. Kellogg, of course, became famous for his far more appealing Corn Flakes (which he invented because he thought they would curb masturbation).

Even as cereal became more processed and softer, the tendency to soak it in milk never left the public consciousness. Milk was the perfect way to add moisture to the dry food without turning it into a completely soggy mess. Like cereal, milk was also synonymous with health, full of vitamins and calcium. In a 1922 newspaper ad for Corn Flakes, Kellogg’s exhorted the wonders of the combination, offering that:

“With cold milk and luscious fresh fruit, Kellogg’s are extra delightful—so crisp, and appetizing.”

One scientific study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2011 even found that the fat in milk attached itself to the surface of cereal, helping to ward off moisture and keep cereal crunchier for longer than if it were immersed in water.

Of course, milk is no longer required to soften the bricks Lucretia and John Jackson were peddling. Culturally, we’re still predisposed to keeping milk and cereal part of a two-hand breakfast option. Had Lucretia advocated for coffee, orange juice, or something else, things might have turned out differently. And much soggier.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER